State Papers: Hussey complained of conflict and lack of direction

Minister for education detailed where Fine Gael/Labour coalition was going wrong

Secretary of the department of education Declan Brennan, minister for education Gemma Hussey and assistant secretary Sean O’Mahony. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

Secretary of the department of education Declan Brennan, minister for education Gemma Hussey and assistant secretary Sean O’Mahony. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

 
A freeze on public service pay and private sector rents was suggested in 1985 by then minister for education Gemma Hussey.

In a document entitled “Main problems facing Government”, written for a cabinet meeting on July 24th and 25th, 1985 and released under the 30-year rule, Hussey said the coalition was characterised as being “paralysed by internal conflict” and “causing depression among the young population”.

She referred to “self-doubt” and “lack of confidence in ourselves” because of the “threatening” behaviour of backbench TDs.

Hussey said if the government continued in this way the result would be “immensely damaging” to the short- and medium-term political prospects, as well as the historical legacy, of then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and his ministers in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

“It will give the country to a secure Haughey Government for a very long time,” she wrote.

“It will be a sad end to what I believe has been, and could be in the next few years, an excellent government. So I put forward the ‘risk’ strategy as the only possible course of action.”

Hussey said the “appalling media coverage” the government was getting “engenders among the people an attitude of cynicism, some anger, and alienation from our two parties and politics in general”.

She said the government was characterised as being detached and irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people and lacking in firm leadership, “something people desperately want”.

Short agenda

She suggested a possible solution would be to compile a short agenda of what the 15 ministers would do if they were members of a one-party, strong government, “with no backbench weaknesses”.

In that case, Hussey said, the government might “freeze pay in the public sector and rents in the private sector”.

It could embark upon a massive programme of reaching out to young people, with a special planning team including youthful media and public relations people to “harness youth’s enthusiasms, idealism”.

Among other things, she suggested that the government could get oil and gas ashore quickly with whatever tax regime was necessary to do that immediately.

Hussey said that having decided on a programme, the Coalition should then put it forward, in conjunction with the Anglo Irish Agreement, as the only way out of the country’s difficulties.

“If necessary go to the country on it if it’s challenged in Dáil Éireann.”

Otherwise, Hussey warned, the government would continue to be perceived as weak and this would have a further destabilising effect on “wavering” backbenchers.

“We will be unable to govern or to plan, and we will, one day not far from now, fall without having planned it.”

She said Fine Gael and Labour would experience a “severe” loss of seats and both parties would be blamed for “letting down the country”.

The government continued until 1987, when Charles Haughey was elected taoiseach of a Fianna Fáil-led government.