Coalition of Right may be price of Left’s myopic stunts

Opportunism of Left over past five years ensured it was unable to make gains it could have

In less than five years Fianna Fail have managed to change the public's perception of them. Political correspondent Harry McGee explains how they did it.


Fine Gael and Labour got what they thoroughly deserved. Almost every strand of their claims for re-election was bogus: The country was not broke when they came to office, it was one of the richest in the world.

Yes, there was a fiscal crisis because of an ideological hang-up about funding the State adequately through taxation

Even within that ideological hang-up, Brian Lenihan had negotiated a way of out of that fiscal crisis, with funding from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union and a plan that the Fine Gael-Labour government followed in almost all crucial respects.

The government did not have to take the “tough” decisions it did take to correct the fiscal problem – instead of inflicting the burden of the pain on those best able to bear it (the well-off), they needlessly inflicted it on those least able to bear it.

The “recovery” was not primarily of their doing, it was largely because of fortuitous exchange rate changes, the fall in oil prices and the persistence of low interest rates. They promised to seek burden-sharing of the guaranteed bank debt but according to themselves they didn’t bother. Instead they paid out even on unguaranteed debt.

Billions of euro worth of assets owned by the Irish people were sold off in fire sales by the National Asset Management Agency and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation at least in part because of pressure from Michael Noonan, massively to the detriment of this society.

Also, they stuck with the facilitation of Middle East slaughter and mayhem by continuing to allow the US military use Shannon airport.

For all this they wanted credit. And, incidentally, these bogus claims went unchallenged by the media on all this during the election campaign, a media obsessed with triviality: cronyism, Sinn Féin and managerialism (the “real” problem is wastage).

The “big beasts” of Fine Gael and Labour have gone or will soon go into ignominious, super-affluent retirement, puffed up with a conviction that they “saved” Ireland.

Of all the likely outcomes to this election, by far the best has materialised or rather could materialise: a minority government. One that would be accountable to the Dáil, where all the policy decisions would be taken openly and justified publicly. And where, for once, the national parliament would debate policy and take decisions. This could be frustrated by a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition but I suspect Fianna Fáil is not yet psychologically adjusted to self-immolation and Micheál Martin has indicated he too sees the possibilities of the Dáil becoming relevant and wants to opt for that.

A Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition government would be almost as bad as the outgoing one and also as regressive, although it is hard to see even the prospective Fianna Fáil ministers assuming quite the same scale of self-importance as the Labour “big beasts” managed.

Opportunist impulse

A minority government could last a full term but is unlikely to do so, because the opportunist impulse and the prospect of “office” (which many confuse with power) is likely to prevail. So we will probably have another outing in six months or a year, followed by a Fianna Fail-led government including a barely chastened Fine Gael or vice versa, then followed by a Sinn Féin-led (Mary Lou McDonald) government with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael “propping” it up and that will be no different.

It could hardly have been a more propitious opportunity for Left parties in Ireland (ie groupings to the left of the Labour Party and Sinn Féin), with the meltdown of the fake Left represented by the Labour Party, the collapse of the vote share of the two traditional establishment parties and the very evident of voter anger by a large proportion of the electorate. And yet the Left fared dismally.

Yes better, much better, than previously, but dismally given the opportunity afforded to it. And hardly surprisingly so. Instead of using the period during which most regressive government since 1932 was in office to persuade the electorate that a radically different and more equally society was both desirable and possible, they behaved opportunistically and recklessly.

Radically different would involve radically higher taxes for the well-off and the slightly well off (ie the readers of The Irish Times) – everyone being paid €70,000 and more – an end to the tax havens, a higher corporation tax rate and an end to the tax shelters, notably the tax credits on mortgages, on private health insurance and on pensions. This to pay for all the social housing we need; free education right through third level; free health for all; properly funded community schemes, proper supports for lone parents; free childcare facilities; huge funding into disadvantages areas; and funding for Traveller programmes.

Essentially a radically more equal society with all the children and adults of the nation being respected and treated equally.

Popular support for a radical transfer of wealth and income cannot be gained opportunistically, it has to be argued for over a long time and that is what the Left is supposed to be about, not stunts.

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