Noel Whelan: Fine Gael’s new mantra is built on a false premise

This election is not about choosing who can keep the recovery going because those choices are not made here in Ireland

Taoiseach  Enda Kenny. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

Fine Gael has decided to use the Conservative’s recent campaign theme “Keep the Recovery Going” as its main slogan for next month’s election. The phrase appeared three times in a 400-word statement by Enda Kenny last Monday. He told us that the key question now was who is going to keep the recovery going?

Every one in this country wants to “keep the recovery going” but they will not be able to vote for those who can make it happen.

The key decision-makers who have the power to determine whether the Irish recovery can be sustained are not on the ballot paper in any of our 40 constituencies. You’ll not see any posters from them next month. They are not even Irish.

The reality is that the Britain election last year and the US elections this year are more important in determining whether we can keep our recovery going than anything which happens at Irish polling stations.

Ireland is one of the most open economies in the world. We are dependent on foreign trade and foreign direct investment to a greater extent than almost all other countries.

Exchange rates

The Irish economy is unique in that it’s part of the euro zone but earns most of its living from the sterling zone and the dollar zone. We are currently blessed with favourable exchange rates with both these currencies.

We are also fortunate to be recovering at a time of historically low oil prices and minuscule interest rates. In addition, we have had a sudden surge of tax earnings from foreign multinationals.

After a bout of very bad luck the Irish economy has had extraordinary good luck. We have a lot of foreigners to thank for making that luck for the Irish.

People like George Osborne, Jack Lew, Mario Draghi and Janet Yellen. These are the people who will shape the circumstances necessary for Ireland to “keep the recovery going”.

Whether these four people, or people sharing their economic approach, are in power for the next five years is not something Irish votes will get to decide.

Osborne is the British chancellor of the exchequer and has been extraordinarily successful at turning the economy of our leading trading partner around.

Osborne’s situation is not like that of our Minister for Finance, whose policies were shaped firstly by an inherited economic plan and the bailout programme and more recently by euro zone rules. Osborne had his own currency, his own economic policy and his own economic sovereignty.

Lew is the US treasury secretary and a core member of the Obama team overseeing the dramatic recovery in the US economy. For the remainder of this year they will continue to shape this positive economic policy and some of them will continue to do so if the Democrats hold the White House in November’s election.

Also driving this US recovery, and therefore our recovery, are the policies of Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve.

Closer to home it is Draghi, president of the European Central Bank. His interest rate policy, quantitative easing and response to the threatened recession in the euro zone will have most impact on whether Ireland can “keep the recovery going”,

Thinking that we can “keep the recovery going” with our vote is typical Irish hubris.

Our politicians like to blame foreign politicians for all our ills but claim credit themselves for any good times we have.

If we are to have a real and honest policy debate in this election then we should start by acknowledging the limitations of our influence on our own macro-economic environment.

We should focus instead on those things which Irish politicians can actually control, and decide which of them can best shape policies in those areas.

This election cannot determine whether the Irish recovery keeps going. What it can decide, however, is who benefits from the recovery, and what the proceeds of the recovery should be used for.

Overcrowded

This election should be about whether we keep things going the way they are.

It needs to be about whether or not we are going to keep our health services weak, whether or not we are going to keep our emergencies departments overcrowded, whether or not we are going to keep our education system underfunded. It should be about whether we can keep towns and homes from flooding.

This election has to be about whether people can buy an affordable house, whether the trend towards higher rent is gong to keep going, and whether we are going to keep our high level of homelessness,

Repeating a simplistic election slogan over and over is no substitute for real policy debate.

This election is not about choosing who can keep the recovery going because those choices are not made here in Ireland.

This election needs to be about the things we can change. Here’s hoping we have the wisdom to know the difference.

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