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Political passengers looking for an easy ride...

by Frank Schnittger Sun Apr 19th, 2020 at 01:24:29 AM EST

Irish Independent: We need another election when normal life resumes (second letter down)

Fine Gael campaigned to remain in office and won 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats. All the other parties and candidates campaigned for a change of government, and succeeded in wining 125 seats. A decisive victory, well done.

Now, somehow, many of those 125 TDs find themselves unable or unwilling to form a government and the responsibility is said to fall, once again, on Fine Gael to form one. Where is the logic in that?

Cobbling together a government of two or more parties that promised not to coalesce with each other is no way to honour the will of the people. It can only end badly.

If those 125 TDs want to be true to their mandate, let them deliver a government. If not, we have no option but to have another general election to give a mandate to TDs and parties who are actually prepared to form a government and who have campaigned on that basis.

Any party programmes put forward will then also have to explain how they will deal with the realities of post-coronavirus Ireland and the world. That debate will, in and of itself, be a good and necessary thing.

The election can be held just as soon as "normal" life resumes. In the meantime, the current "caretaker" government should just get on with the job of managing the crisis as best as it can. That should be its sole focus until the election is called.

Frank Schnittger

As I wrote in Hurlers on the ditch Irish politics is currently awash with politicians adept at emoting the frustrations of the electorate but who run a mile when the prospect of real responsibility beckons. They are good at shouting abuse from the sidelines at those who are trying to govern the country, but disinclined to take on that responsibility themselves.

So I have been ramping up the pressure, via letters published in the Irish Times and Irish Independent, for them to shit or burst. The February general election produced an overwhelming mandate for change, and yet here we are still stuck with the same tiny minority government and no prospect of a new government being formed any time soon. It has gone past the joke.

I have no doubt that the electorate share my impatience and would give short shrift to the many smaller parties and independents who have shirked their responsibility to date if another election were called now. Of course that election cannot take place while the lock-down is in place, and so, realistically we are probably talking about another election in the autumn.

But my hope is that another election will not be necessary and that the vast majority of the Dáil will succeed in electing a new government sooner rather than later. At the moment only Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are seriously trying to form a government and they don't reflect the sort of radical change the electorate voted for.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have just produced a "framework document" setting out their priorities for government in the hope of enticing some smaller parties to join them thus creating a stable coalition with an overall majority. It includes a lot of big spending commitments without being specific about funding or timscale, and so far none of the smaller parties have expressed much interest despite many of their own policy proposals being included.

There is an overall sense that the document doesn't reflect the changed realities that are likely to apply in a post Covid-19, post Brexit, post trade protectionism, post global corporate tax reform, post climate change world, especially if the European Union and Eurozone also fail to address those challenges. All the risks appear to be on the downside and it appears that almost nobody wants to be in office when the shit hits the fan and those challenges have to be faced.

There is a crisis of leadership and a lack of vision in the Irish political system at the moment and perhaps only another general election can clear out the dead wood and reward those who are prepared to embrace the very uncertain future with the courage and candour that is likely to be required. Fintan O'Toole has written a perceptive piece on the insecurity and unease that has gripped the Irish people even before Covid-19 struck (regrettably behind a paywall). Here is a flavour of his analysis of an in depth survey of Irish opinions that has just been published.

Anxiety was already in the Irish air even before coronavirus was. The groundwork for the Sign of the Times study of Irish attitudes was done in February, before the threat from Covid-19 loomed large in the public consciousness.

Yet here are some of the phrases that emerged: "an underlying a sense of anxiety, with many feeling that we're living on the edge"; "feels like it wouldn't take much for it to come crashing down; "no evidence of a back-up plan". One respondent pointed to the way early childcare facilities had almost closed in December because they couldn't get insurance. "Crisis averted this time, but what will be next?" One of the things Irish people were afraid of was a "major healthcare crisis".

This prescience might seem mystical, as if the nation was reading its tarot cards and turning up all the bad omens. In the context of what was then a booming economy with technically full employment, this level of dread is all the more remarkable. The giant cranes, totems of boomtime, were dominating the skyline. Investment in Ireland, private and public, was projected to reach €2 billion a week during 2020. The most obvious problems were growing pains: there were too few houses and public services were too constrained for a rapidly rising population. Yet there we were, even in our ignorance of what was coming: the worried well.

In thinking about how the pandemic will affect Irish politics, it is important to remember that the body politic had this pre-existing condition. We like to think of ourselves as a happy-go-lucky people. One of the markers of Irish identity that emerged in the Sign of the Times survey, indeed, is the "we're laid-back, relaxed, it'll be grand" mentality. But this broad self-image is flatly contradicted by the actual findings. We are not laid-back about the state of our society. We are not relaxed. Even before the disaster hit us, we did not think things would be grand.

So far there is little sign that the Irish political system is reflecting this unease and anxiety and this yearning for change - beyond a collective running away from the responsibility for dealing with it... It may well take a new generation of leaders to take on the burden of that responsibility. There are too many passengers in the current Dáil looking for an easy ride.

It appears that serious work avoidance is not limited to Ireland, but the difference in Ireland is that many politicians do not want the responsibility of office in the first place...

Johnson missed five key meetings before outbreak - report
`He liked his country breaks. He didn't work weekends,' says senior government aide

Calls for an exit plan to end the lockdown intensified in the UK as questions emerged about the British government's preparedness during the build-up to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

British prime minister Boris Johnson missed five meetings of the government's key Cobra committee as the health crisis was gathering pace, according to a report in The Sunday Times.

This paints a different picture of the prime minister to the one depicted in the Sunday Times in the run-up to the outbreak, as the newspaper quoted a senior Downing Street aide, who was not named, saying: "There's no way you're at war if your PM isn't there.

"And what you learn about Boris was he didn't chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn't work weekends.

"It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn't do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be."

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Apr 19th, 2020 at 09:30:57 AM EST
Fintan O'Toole: FF and FG have produced a colouring book for adults (Subscriber only)
There has been a trend for colouring books for adults. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the self-declared "historic" coalition plan published by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael last week. After many weeks of intensive labour, they issued a colouring book - 24 pages of idyllic scenes drawn in rough outline. They then passed the crayons to the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party: please colour in these pictures. A bit of green here? Perhaps some red on the fringes? Lots of pink. Whatever you like - so long as the tax stuff stays nice and blue. And do be sure to keep within the lines of familiar orthodoxy.


The bigger force is, of course, the advent of corona communism. The pandemic is transforming the relationship between the State, society and the economy. The public realm has expanded to an extent that even the hard left would scarcely have thought feasible a few months ago. The Government is paying private-sector wages. Disregarded people have become "key workers". The dramatic revelation of our utter interdependence has destroyed the allure of rugged individualism. Priorities have changed - we are getting a terrible lesson in what really matters and what doesn't. A sense of the fragility of our place in the natural world - our existence as just one part of a much larger complex of living things - has been brought home to us.


The historic precedent for this effort is, in fact, quite an optimistic one. The postwar period of 1945 to 1979 in the West was the greatest era of progress for ordinary people in the history of humanity. The terrible shock of totalitarianism and war forced governments to ask: what do people need if democracy is to survive? The answers were obvious: public housing, free education, national health services, full employment, steadily reducing inequality. The same question and the same answers will dominate in the post-coronavirus world, with the twist that ideas of full employment will now be inextricable from the urgent need for a Green economic revolution.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 21st, 2020 at 10:52:20 AM EST
If we are to believe Fintan O'Toole and Una Mullally, nirvana is just around the corner and all we have to do is boot FF and FG out of office. Simples!  (FF and FG have produced a colouring book for adults, 21/4/2020; and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael exposed as intellectually dead, 20/4/2020)

There is no mention, never mind analysis, of the alternative policies on offer from the vast majority of TDs who were elected in February on a platform of booting FG out of office, and who have as yet, unaccountably, failed to form an alternative government.

Could it be that these change supporting TDs are all clamouring to join the opposition because they realise that anything but nirvana is likely to be on offer over the next few years?

Not only will the economy have to be re-built from a base perhaps 20% lower than we achieved in 2019, but the costs of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, together with the costs of Brexit, global corporate tax reform, global trade wars, and combating climate change will have to be borne before we can even think of regaining the average standard of living we enjoyed in 2019.

Certainly we can address issues such as income inequality, housing, healthcare, child care and care of the elderly, but we will be doing so, in all likelihood, out of an economy and tax base far smaller than we enjoyed in 2019. The notion that some of us are not going to have to pay a lot more tax so that more of us can benefit is fanciful. We will be lucky to retain existing benefits even if we all pay a lot more tax.

Certainly, in the short term, we can borrow more to ease the pain. Today we paid off a €10.6 Billion debt taken out in 2004 which was costing us €450 Million a year in real money. Right now we can replace that borrowing at near 0% interest rates, but how long will that last when almost every nation on earth tries to tap the debt markets on a vast scale?

And with Italy on the verge of bankruptcy, I wouldn't be counting on the EU and ECB to come running to our rescue.

 As the Chinese curse would have it, we live in Interesting times...

Both articles are subscriber only. I have quoted some of Fintan's article in the comment above. Below is an extract from Una's article which is a long rant at the inadequacies of FF and FG, but without proposing any alternatives...

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are attempting to form a government no one asked for. They want in. Trying to jimmy open a space to carry on as usual is inevitable for two parties who perceive their loss of power as an existential threat.

When all you really care about is being in power, and when one's identity is rooted in self-gifted authority and the role of "being in charge", losing that leaves you with . . . what?

Trying on the policies of different parties like a younger sibling raiding the wardrobe of their older, more stylish sister has left Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil attempting to present themselves as emerging fresh from a makeover.

But in reality they're clacking down the street waving a fake ID in heels three sizes too big. And like any bouncer worth their salt, we can see them coming a mile off. So as we progress through this moment, what do we keep and what do we leave behind.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Apr 21st, 2020 at 03:40:30 PM EST
Well first, it's a lot easier to say what you aren't than what you are.  Opposition benches are more comfortable and more fun.  Second, at least you don't have what we have in the US: a governing party opposed to governing, Hells-bent on blocking every effort to govern, and exercising its power only to funnel wealth to the 1%.
by rifek on Sat May 9th, 2020 at 01:13:11 PM EST

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