Déjà vu, all over again.

Political and business correspondent Jim O’ Brien sounds off on the cycle of empty poltical gestures in Ireland.

The 2011 General Election was all about change and reform. A change in our political masters from one centre-right government to another, if not more, of a right-wing government. OK we had the greens, and that’s really it.  Fine Gael has Labour, but do you see any changes in the policies that have been implemented to more progressive ones? I used to moan about Vincent Browne talking about the same topics, but I soon realised that for the first time in Ireland’s political history, and probably the last time, a political party could communicate an honest and direct manifesto. The British electorate knew their fate in 2010: cuts, cuts, cuts. We did also, but political manipulation still occured. Why? Fine Gael wanted an overall majority. Why didn’t I believe Fine Gael when they said there would be no increases in income tax, or any hospital foreclosures, or even the line that Fine Gael would not give the banks “one more red cent?” Such a line was hammered home consistently by Enda Kenny and James Reilly. The only thing this government will ever do consistently…..the wrong policies.

Fine Gael’s policy in not increasing income tax was based on ESRI growth figures published last year, but were side-lined due to the further losses in the banking system. Also, the ESRI’s assumptions were based on the lending capacity and growth of the banks too, which we know is not happening. The people knew that more cuts and tax changes will happen yet those within our political system, with all their wisdom and expertise, (the Taoiseach, Finance minister and Junior Finance minister are primary school teachers*) insisted this would not happen. The bulk of Fine Gael’s expenditure cuts would be from public sector reform. Reform does not equate to cuts, it is how you use what you have. I have not heard of any managerial reform or restructuring within the public sector. Employees need leadership, motivation and autonomy.

Let’s look at the HSE. It was announced on the news that Tallaght Hospital, like a lot of Irish hospitals, is overcrowded and breaches health and safety standards. If a local butcher did not have a tidy shop, clean tools and equipment, his/her business would be shut down. Now, I’m  not saying we should shut down hospitals, although the government seems to think this is the right policy, but we the citizens should demand better treatment and services. However, our behaviour come election time is quite narrow minded and self-centred. Bertie Ahern won three elections on the back of promises to cut taxes, yet in 2002, we had runaway childcare costs, forcing parents to stay at home. And in 2007, we had children being educated in prefabs, and a hospital system lacking no primary care units or improvements in bed numbers, and A&E and theatre waiting lists.

Can we the people (well the majority of us) be somewhat part of the blame for our current predicament? It’s certainly possible.

The Roscommon hospital’s A&E department has closed even though Fine Gael and Enda Kenny promised to keep it open. The change in policy occurred due to a report on the hospital’s health and safety standards, which the government could not ignore. Yet, leading personalities and groups recently urged debt forgiveness for homeowners, but the government does not agree, selective opinions got us into the mess we are in. ‘We don’t need debt forgiveness’ reminds me of ‘there will be a soft landing within the financial system’ in 2008. Will Enda tell Professor Morgan Kelly to commit suicide too?

Who has two thumbs and doesn't give a crap? This guy!

To conclude, this crisis should reinvent Irish society, making us more aware of our political system and economic situation. Should we be paying more taxes for a decent health system, investment in education and those in long-term unemployment, which is increasing? FDR implemented dozens of bills to aid America during the Depression when first elected President.

In the upcoming budget, question every policy initiative. For instance, there will be no surprise if welfare payments are cut, considering Minister Joan Burton expressed her view that taxes should increase on the wealthier in parallel to cuts in welfare. Apparently that’s fair.

*No disrespect to Primary school teachers, they are central to the development of children.

Jim O’ Brien

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