Findings unlikely to have a huge bearing on Fianna Fáil vote

Electorate does not need banking inquiry report to decide if has quite finished with FF

Often when a political party experiences an unprecedented drubbing at an election, a veteran figure is asked to undertake a warts and all assessment of the failure.

Think of Fine Gael's "Flannery Report", the investigation of the 2002 general election disaster under Michael Noonan, which went on to inform how Enda Kenny dragged the party out of the mire.

The final report of the Oireachtas banking inquiry spells out the factors behind Fianna Fáil's disastrous result at the 2011 general election, as if it needed any reminding.

The political verdict on its findings was delivered by the electorate when Fianna Fáil was reduced from the commanding heights of 78 seats at the 2007 election to a rump group of 20 TDs when votes were counted in late February 2011.

The reality is that the long-running banking inquiry, which consumed thousands of hours of work and €5 million of taxpayers’ cash, is more relevant to the last general election than to the one due within weeks.

While the findings do highlight the effects of light-touch regulation and an over-reliance on unsustainable, short- term taxes to fund huge increases in public spending, they do not bear out Kenny’s claim of three years ago that an “axis of collusion” existed between Fianna Fáil and the banks.

That blatantly political statement, coupled with Kenny’s insistence on a Government majority on the inquiry, reinforced the suspicion it was a Coalition construct to embarrass Fianna Fáil on the eve of the forthcoming election.

Blame

If that was its aim, the inquiry has failed in its political goals. While the policy shortcomings and lack of alacrity in dealing with an emerging crisis displayed by previous Fianna Fáil governments are detailed in the report, not one person is fingered for blame.

Nor could they be, because of the rules that set it up.

That, as has been noted previously, cannot be laid at the door of the inquiry members, who were hamstrung by the tightly written constraints within which they were working.

The political fallout from that era has not passed. Fianna Fáil polled 17 per cent in the 2011 general election and the last Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll, taken in November, had the party on 19 per cent. Under Micheál Martin, it has certainly not experienced a Lazarus-like resurrection in the meantime, even if it is expected to pick up more seats in the coming election.

The public does not need to be reminded of the failings of the crash and who presided over the period of boom and bust. Arguably, many have tried to move on from that era in their personal lives, but have not finished with Fianna Fáil just yet.

That will not stop eve-of-election breast beating in the coming days as the 31st Dáil, in one of its last acts, debates the report’s findings.

Fine Gael figures have in recent weeks said they will not allow the public to forget Fianna Fáil's record in office.

While Kenny did not mention Micheál Martin’s party in his ardfheis speech, Fine Gael attack ads have appeared on billboards nationwide and the Dáil debate on the banking inquiry provides yet another platform for a political assault.

Fianna Fáil has repeated its claim that the crash was mostly caused by international factors, another argument that will be repeated in the Dáil in the days ahead.

Exuberant promises

The report does not entirely spare Fine Gael and

Labour

and highlights their exuberant promises of lower taxes and increased spending in election manifestos. It also outlines the effect of upcoming elections on budgetary decision-making by Fianna Fáil-led governments.

“The upcoming election has always influenced measures which the Government do at election time,” said Charlie McCreevy. “We are politicians, don’t forget, and we actually like to be re-elected.”

This Coalition’s last budget was undoubtedly crafted with the election in mind, and Ministers would privately agree with McCreevy’s assessment.

The spending commitments may have been of a different scale then, with the current Government constrained by European fiscal rules, but the sentiment remains: elections have a huge bearing on budgetary policy.

It is unlikely that this report will have a huge bearing on the verdict voters will deliver on Fianna Fáil in the coming weeks.

The party paid the political price in 2011 and the electorate does not need the banking inquiry report to decide if it is quite finished with Fianna Fáil yet.

READ MORE