Coalition needs to resist easy rush to populism
Opinion: Government should stand over what it has achieved
‘Joan Burton, the hot favourite to take over as the new Labour Party leader, couldn’t resist describing those who favoured a €2 billion adjustment as “austerity hawks”. The use of this trite phrase plays straight into the hands of the Opposition and undermines Labour’s own considerable achievement in Government.’ Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
The latest bout of posturing by both Coalition partners over whether they should stick to the financial adjustment targets agreed with the troika for next year raises questions about whether the Irish political system has really learned anything from the crash.
The obsession of the Government parties with a banking inquiry, while they are simultaneously trying to wriggle out of budgetary disciplines or at the very least water them down, brings to mind Talleyrand’s remark about the Bourbons having forgotten nothing and learned nothing. In a challenging speech earlier this week former taoiseach John Bruton looked back to the days of the boom and pointed out that taking away the punch bowl while the party was still on would not have been easy politically, socially or administratively.
He suggested that the politicians on the banking inquiry should ask hard questions not only of the people in charge between 2000 and 2007 but of themselves too.
He asked: “As practical politicians who have to face the electorate, the members of the Oireachtas committee are well qualified to ask themselves how they would react if faced by a similar situation to that obtaining in the 2000 to 2007 period?”
The current attitude of Government and Opposition in the Dáil indicates they would make all of the same mistakes again without a second thought.
2 billion adjustment Look at the way the firm advice of the Fiscal Advisory Council (FAC) that the planned €
2 billion adjustment for next year should not be shirked has been blithely dismissed by the political class. The council was established to ensure the mistakes of the boom were not repeated but most politicians are happy to ignore what it has to say.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has publicly stated his belief that the €2 billion target might not be necessary but at least he is sticking to the commitment to cut the deficit to 3 per cent of gross domestic product whatever monetary figure is required when the growth projection for 2015 and other statistics become available.
Joan Burton, the hot favourite to take over as the new Labour Party leader, has adopted a similar position, but during the week she couldn’t resist describing those who favoured a €2 billion adjustment as “austerity hawks”. The use of this trite phrase plays straight into the hands of the Opposition and undermines Labour’s considerable achievement in Government.
By accepting the “anti-austerity” language of its opponents Labour devalues its record in office and can hardly expect the electorate to give it any credit.
If the prudent budgetary discipline of recent years can be dismissed as “austerity” then argument is handed away to the array of forces from left to right who claimed that the painful budgetary adjustment was unnecessary in the first place and instead urged the country to renege on its debt and damn the consequences.