A detailed analysis of the pledges made by Fine Gael and Labour before the last election shows the two parties partially or fully implemented more than 60 per cent of them.
The study undertaken by two political scientists – Rory Costello of the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Limerick and Robert Thomson Head Of School Of Govt And Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow – shows that, contrary to received wisdom, Labour implemented the majority of its promises and had a big influence on government policy.
In fact, Labour emerges as marginally better than Fine Gael at getting its election promises implemented.
The academics adopted a strict definition of what counted as a pledge. It must have been a clear commitment to carry out some specific action or produce some specific outcome.
They identified 421 clear, testable pledges made by the two parties, with 235 from Fine Gael and 186 from Labour.
The breakdown for the two parties taken together shows that 44 per cent of the pledges were fully fulfilled, 18 per cent partially fulfilled and 39 per cent not fulfilled.
Labour managed to fully or partially fulfil 62 per cent of pledges while Fine Gael implemented 60 per cent of its pledges.
While Fine Gael fulfilled a greater number of pledges in total, the percentage favoured Labour so, contrary to most of the received wisdom, the party punched above its weight in Government.
The outgoing Government fares well by comparison with the implementing of election pledges by previous coalitions.
"As a point of comparison, these numbers are similar to the rate of fulfilment achieved by the Fianna Fáil- PD coalition in 2002-2007. We found Fianna Fáil to have fully fulfilled 50 per cent of their pledges during that government, while the Progressive Democrats fully fulfilled 47 per cent," says the study.
"They exceed the rate of fulfilment of the previous government of 2007-2011, which is not surprising given the financial crisis that struck that government - we found Fianna Fáil to have fully fulfilled 30 per cent of their 2007 pledges, while the Green Party fully fulfilled 20 per cent and the PDs 28 per cent."
The academics say that, broken down by policy area, they found that parties fulfil more pledges when they hold the relevant ministry.
Areas where Labour fulfilled relatively higher numbers of their pledges include education, including, for example, a pledge to recognise Educate Together as a patron at second level, and social protection, for example, a pledge to create the JobBridge internship scheme.
Fine Gael fulfilled relatively more pledges in areas such as justice, including a pledge to revisit the decision to build a prison at Thornton Hall, and health, including a pledge to introduce risk equalisation in the health insurance market.
The authors do not try to distinguish between pledges in terms of how important they are, as they say this would result in a very subjective evaluation.
“Some unfulfilled pledges are undoubtedly very significant, such as the Labour pledge that ‘Labour does not favour water charges’, or the Fine Gael pledge to introduce a site sale profits tax, rather than an annual recurring property tax, or a pledge to prepare the groundwork for Universal Health Insurance which has now been put on the long finger.”
They also say they looked only at manifesto pledges: Labour made a public pledge not to increase university tuition fees, but that was not in their manifesto.
The research will be published in the book How Ireland Voted 2016 (Palgrave) after the election.