With support for the Government running low, Andy Howell wonders if we should feel at all sorry for it.
IT CAN’T BE easy to wake up in the morning when you are part of a government that 75 per cent of voters want to see out of office. The figure, which was revealed in an Irish Times/TNS MRBI poll at the beginning of this month, will realistically come as no shock to the current government, which has become less and less popular with each passing month. The Lisbon Treaty, NAMA, medical cards, education cuts – the electorate have just had enough of them.
I wonder if Bertie Ahern had a premonition about the impending doom a few months before he left the office of the Taoiseach. Brian Cowen gladly stepped up to the plate, only to find himself plunging head-first into the worst recession in decades, on a scale greater than any of our fellow EU member states. “DireLand” was the title of the piece about us in the Financial Times, while the Economist chose to run with “In a Stew”.
Uncertain is probably the best way to describe this government’s future – we are in new territory with this coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The Greens entered government during more stable times with the expectation that we would continue growing, albeit in a more sustainable fashion. Since then, they have been reliable coalition partners for Fianna Fáil, who have pushed ahead with measures which are moving us even further away from creating an equal society – something the Greens are supposed to support. Nobody is more unhappy with these measures than Green supporters, 74 per cent of whom favour a change in government according to the above survey.
Despite the insistence by Brian Lenihan to the contrary, the idea that this is a bailout for bankers and developers just won’t go away
The Green Ministers have been badgering away in their respective departments producing quite substantial legislation, and can be credited with such things as the reform of building regulations, planning, local government, and the civil partnership bill – arguably some of the best pieces of legislation to come out of the current government.
Unfortunately the electorate are seeing people losing their jobs and houses as result of a society which lost the run of itself and failed to demonstrate the trickle-down wealth that capitalism promised us, and the people are turning to the Greens to protect the most vulnerable in society. The Green Party grassroots may be where this protection comes from in the end – while Ministers Gormley and Ryan are presenting a unified front in the media, the membership’s call for a Special Convention on NAMA is an omnipresent reminder that the Green TDs are at the mercy of their members, who can make or break the government.
Fianna Fáil backbenchers are revolting in their own way too: there was no shortage of TDs speaking out against budget cuts earlier in the year, and losses in the June local and by-elections are a worrying sign for them. The fact that Bertie Ahern’s brother Maurice couldn’t even vaguely challenge for the seat vacated by the late Tony Gregory is a sign that the party is losing its strong grip on the electorate.
There seems to be an invisible barrier between the people and the government; as in the run up to the first Lisbon vote, there is a wide sense of confusion among the public regarding the government’s NAMA plan, and despite the insistence by Brian Lenihan to the contrary, the idea that this is a bailout for bankers and developers just won’t go away.
As a friend recently remarked, it appears his game plan is to ‘walk softly and carry a very big stick’
The electorate, meanwhile, are seeing an opposition who are calculated and consistent in their attacks on the government parties, despite the reality that none of them would rather be in power during this time. Fine Gael and Labour made huge gains in the local elections, and Eamon Gilmore is the most popular party leader by far. Enda Kenny’s ability to lead may be constantly in question but his party’s wins in the elections now make Fine Gael the strongest party on local councils. His plan for a ‘good’ bank is also coherent, and likely to be popular in its ultimatum for banks to clear themselves of bad debts. As a friend recently remarked, it appears his game plan is to “walk softly and carry a very big stick”.
Since the opposition have no desire to be in the FF-Greens position, is it just unfortunate that this is how the last general election results worked out? Did Brian Cowen take the reins with any knowledge of what was coming? What if it happens that the advisors in the various departments are not consciously working towards the creation of a more equitable society? The problem with this “it would have happened anyway” approach is that it relinquishes our TDs’ responsibility; their purpose is to run our country fairly and make decisions in our best interests – not in the interests of big businesses, bankers or developers.
It is their responsibility to do things right from the start, and produce legislation which looks to the future (unlike in the case of the civil partnership bill). It is their responsibility to create a stable economic system not built on speculation and gambling, allowing speculators and gamblers to command huge wages for their recklessness. Now is the time to remind our representatives of this, and not allow other voices to shout louder.