Government spin machine brings out the artillery

Opinion: Trumpeting future spending is seen as the best defence against mood of anger

‘The centrepiece of this week’s  political confetti was a media event hosted by Brendan Howlin on Tuesday to itemise initiatives which will benefit from the Stimulus Package.’  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

‘The centrepiece of this week’s political confetti was a media event hosted by Brendan Howlin on Tuesday to itemise initiatives which will benefit from the Stimulus Package.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Sat, May 17, 2014, 00:01

This was one of those weeks when the sheer scale and power of the Government’s press and media operation became apparent. When it gets its act together the Government spin machine is a wonder to behold. Across all government departments, ministers, together with their political press and policy advisers, are clearly focused on the electoral timescale. This was the crucial campaigning week for next Friday’s local and European elections and the two byelections and the Taoiseach and his Ministers nearly crashed into each other as they rushed around pre-announcing, announcing or re-announcing various national and regional initiatives.

Notwithstanding the straightened times we live in, there seemed to be money for everybody in the audience. Last Friday the Taoiseach joined Leo Varadkar at an event near Tuam designed to remind voters that the long promised Tuam bypass is on the way. It will be 2018 before the road itself is ready to open so instead the Taoiseach and his Minister for Transport arranged to get together to jointly turn a sod before journalists and photographers.

The centrepiece of this week’s political confetti was a media event hosted by Brendan Howlin on Tuesday to itemise initiatives which will benefit from the Stimulus Package which is being funding from the sale of Bord Gáis Energy and the part privatisation of the ESB. Among the funding sweeties which Howlin unwrapped was that for a GPO Interpretive Centre (which has been long announced by consecutive governments), a Tenement Museum, and redevelopment work at the National Concert Hall and works at Richmond Barracks.

The latter funding was quickly welcomed in a press release from Fine Gael’s local deputy Catherine Byrne and followed promptly by another welcoming statement from Labour’s Euro election candidate Emer Costello.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport also announced a series of initiatives including €10m in 2014 for further cycling Greenways including the Dublin-Athlone-Galway route. The real political coup de grace however was the announcement of a special State grant of €30 million towards the redevelopment of Páirc Uí­ Chaoimh. This story inevitably dominated the Examiner front page on Wednesday. Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central, Jerry Buttimer was first out of the traps with the statements of welcome, reminding news editors that he is a former chairman of Bishopstown GAA club and former member of the GAA national marketing committee, he described the Páirc Ui Chaoimh as “a significant economic boost for Cork”.

Not to be outdone, his Labour constituency colleague Kieran Lynch, put a finer point on it, describing it in his statement as “brilliant news for Cork.” At the Howlin event the Government also took the opportunity to detail the pyrite remediation fund that will provide assistance to homeowners affected by the building defect, many of them in Co Meath.

There followed synchronised statements in near identical terms from each of Fine Gael’s TDs in Meath re-welcoming the re-announcement. Among this week’s pre-announcements was the launch on Tuesday by Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture of details of plans for a new Rural Development Programme, which he told media will provide €4 billion in combined national and European funding in the period to 2020. Plans for the scheme go to Brussels at the end of June and the initial monies it seems will not flow until next spring at the earliest, but it was important to tell rural voters about it this week.

On Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny got together with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to launch “Construction 2020” a strategy with “75 actions to support the return of the sector to sustainable levels”. Politically, of course, it was about messaging to those working in the construction industry or who use to work in the construction industry, that a revival in the sector is on the way. The construction strategy was cleverly teed up by a well-planted story on the Irish Independent front page that morning promising a new scheme to make it easier for first time buyers to get a mortgage.

There are no concrete plans for such a scheme, which, has as it happened, were criticised by many economic commentators; but again of course the story was about messaging to young voters, and young Dublin voters in particular, that the Government will help them take the first step on the property ladder. On Thursday our usually media-shy Taoiseach was out again, this time with Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton to launch a new €2 million competition for young entrepreneurs.

The tightly choreographed series of well-funded initiatives, promoted by the Government this week is the type of artillery against which Opposition and Independents candidates in these elections must compete. Trumpeting future spending is clearly seen by government strategists as the best bulwark against a general anti-government mood in the country and a mood of anger in particular about water charges and about the way the review of medical cards is being implemented. The latter factors are more likely to determine the outcomes of these elections and it seems both Government parties are set for a wallop next Friday. We will know one way or another this time next week.

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