Politicians should trust voters, says Varadkar

Minister for Health says politicians should be prepared to reject voters’ ideas

Time and time again, politicians fail to trust people, says Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Time and time again, politicians fail to trust people, says Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

Politicians should have enough trust in voters to turn down demands for projects such as schools rather than giving in to every request, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said. He also said politicians should be prepared to tell people such proposals are not good ideas, even if the Government could afford them.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at a debate on restoring “trust between governors and the governed” at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, last night, alongside Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Varadkar said politicians must trust the people before they can earn trust in return, adding: “Time and time again, politicians fail to trust people.

The undeliverables

“We tell them that you can have a school in every village, a university in every large town. And worse still, even if it is affordable, we do not trust people enough to tell them why it would not be a good idea. Routinely, in opposition, politicians promise the undeliverable and then, surprisingly, under-deliver.

“Unless we show that we are free from anxiety about trusting the people, then we cannot expect them to have trust in us.”

He said Sinn Féin “refuses to trust the people with the truth about its past”, particularly over whether Gerry Adams was in the IRA. “Until Sinn Féin trusts the people with the truth about its own past, it can never expect a majority of the people to trust it on the key political issues of our time,” Mr Varadkar said, adding he didn’t believe Mr Adams wasn’t in the IRA.

There was too much trust in Fianna Fáil, he argued, to question the wealth of former taoiseach Charles Haughey or to question the policies which led to the property bubble and economic crash. “The Haughey story was just a dress rehearsal for the rise of another former taoiseach with complex finances, the property bubble, the spending spree and the inevitable collapse of the Celtic tiger.”

Cynicism in politics

Mr Martin said cynicism in politics had been fed by messages such as those used in Fine Gael’s campaign to abolish the Seanad, which he described as “the deeply cynical spectacle of a Government putting up thousands of posters calling for fewer politicians”.

He also said the Government is unpopular not because it “took the tough decisions” but because “people believe it has made bad and unfair decisions – and because before the election it made promises which it knew it would not keep”. Policymaking must be reformed to restore trust in it, he said, claiming that “governing is essentially a closed-circle”.

Ms McDonald said trust in politics had been undermined because it is “run by an insider class and corrupted by cronyism”. “If society is divided between the ‘haves and have nots’, where the entitled few hold sway, little wonder that trust is shattered.”

The crash was a further blow, she said, claiming that as “the economy entered crisis so too did the lives of people across every class and divide in Irish society”.

“The banks were bailed out and the ‘austerity’ began,” she said. “While families and workers coped with job loss, emigration and struggled to get by they witnessed a political system that was largely unresponsive to their changed reality,” she added, with politicians and retiring civil servants enjoying big pensions, with new “special advisers remaining special”.