By Eamon Delaney
Fianna Fail got a small opinion poll rise recently, but sometimes you have to wonder about our second biggest party, and its focus and direction, not to mention internal discipline.
Recently, for example, three of its TDs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called for more disclosure of the President’s spending. But their party leader, Micheal Martin, repeatedly opposed the idea. The TDs persisted, however, and revealed that the President gets an extra 317k per annum allowance. Result. So why did the TDs have to ignore their party leader to get it?
But even on the ideas that the party HQ has cleared, there is some strange stuff going on. We’ve had proposed State aid for quality media (who’s going to judge that one?) and stringent proposals on rent that would drive landlords out of the market.
A while back we had a proposal by which a woman could call the barman if she felt she was being harassed, on a date. But this could only cause more trouble than it was solving and typifies the PC Nanny State mentality that has now infected this once great party of rugged no-nonsense individualists. What ‘identity-politics’ unit of FF is coming up with this stuff? It was the same with making women’s sanitary products free: an impressive feminist notion but why should taxpayers pay for it?
Meanwhile, in a broader way, the party has been true to its old form and got in behind every public sector interest going, from teachers, to doctors (in terms of State support) to our soldiers. Our defence forces probably have a case, but you rarely see FF take up the case of private sector workers like this, or that of SME’s and retailers. Yes, those hard working folk who were once the party’s bread and butter.
Or indeed support the hard-pressed taxpayer, still paying 50% tax on all income over 34k. But when Fine Gael hinted announced that it might reduce this to attract post-Brexit talent to Ireland, the recast Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly derided it saying that Fine Gael were the ‘Tories of Ireland’. Why? Because they wanted to reduce a tax rate of 50 % on earnings of just over 34k ?
But then it seems Micheal Martin wants to squeeze the squeezed middle even more. Despite 33% paying almost no tax at all, Martin wants to reduce USC again on the lower paid. And increase the old age pension again, by a fiver. Looks like Michael Martin is the new Bertie – possibly even the old Bertie – and Stephen Donnelly is the new Shane Ross : high on rhetoric and emotion, but short on detail or consistency.
For example, Donnelly was quick to taunt Fine Gael about the revelations about huge waiting lists (in the same week of news about another black hole in HSE spending). Donnelly crowed that the health service had improved under FF and that the crisis only escalated under Fine Gael.
But this is completely untrue. In reality, the problems were really created under FF, and its unwillingness to tackle the over-managed and bloated health service and loosen the grip of vested interests and trade unions.
Indeed, I was on RTE’s Late Late Show in September 2006 when there was a harrowing item about waiting lists and overcrowding, especially for elderly patients. This was four years before FF left office.
Interestingly, the Minster of Health from 2000 to 2004 was Micheal Martin, Donnelly’s own party leader, who famously commissioned umpteen reports that ended up gathering dust. He was succeeded by Mary Harney, again in a FF-led government. She was nicknamed, unfairly, Minister for Trollies.
It is important to call out Fianna Fail political opportunism on this, because quite frankly what we need is more ‘new politics’ and not less, on these big long term issues.
We need the two main parties to come together and work on a plan to finally reform our health service and make it efficient- and stop the rot of over spending. And it is the same with housing.
And, meanwhile, please let’s have less of the policy gimmicks, and identity politics with public money !