New Dawn or More of the Same?

This time last year there was a political earthquake that changed the shape of Irish politics. Fianna Fail suffered the worst defeat in its history and lost its dominance over Irish politics. The political system in place since 1932 was destroyed. Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein made enormous and unprecedented gains, while the losses suffered by Fianna Fail and the Green Party were so great many commentators questioned if they would survive. A Fine-Gael-Labour coalition was formed with the largest majority in history. One year on, how has the new government fared? Has it redefined the way politics operate or is it simply a case of new faces, same old story?

The new government was barely in office when they were allegations of broken promises. They were accused of back tracking on their promise to ‘burn the bondholders’. Leo Varadker promised that “Anglo Irish Bank is not getting another cent of our money.” However, the month after the election it was announced that Anglo Irish bank would receive an extra 24 billion euro from the state. The government has now categorically stated it will not impose any losses on bondholders.

There was outrage among students when Labour reneged on promise it not raise student fees. During the election, Ruairi Quinn signed a USI pledge not to raise fees and promised to reverse the previous hike by Fianna Fail. Eamon Gilmore declared that “Labour is opposed to third level fees by either the front or back door.” Fine Gael’s manifesto also promised that “We will not further increase the registration fee.” However, as Minister of Education, Ruairi Quinn raised the student registration fee by 250 euro.

Both Fine Gael and Labour’s manifesto’s contain promises to renegotiate the EU-IMF deal. However, once in power, Enda Kenny made it clear that he would not negotiate a new deal or fundamentally change the current one. Other promises have also proven not possible to achieve. Legal reasons prevented the promised end to upward-only rent reviews. Corporate donations were not banned, as promised, but lowered. Promises to reduce the number of TDs and quangos have been significantly scaled down. The jobs budget, however underwhelming, with critics arguing it is a mere PR stunt rather than an actual plan.

There was considerable embarrassment for the government over its promise to keep Roscommon hospital open. During the election Enda Kenny declared that “We are committed to maintaining the services at Roscommon General Hospital.” However, one of the first actions of the government was to close its emergency unit. This led to allegations that Kenny made promises he had no intention of keeping, solely to gain power.

The government has had some successes though, most notably the reduction in the interest rate on the EU-IMF bailout, which will save over 9 billion. The corporation tax rate has been maintained at 12.5%, which the government claim will be crucial in Ireland’s recovery. The referendum on reducing judge’s pay was overwhelmingly passed. The minimum wage was restored to 8.65 an hour and there has been an increase in Dail sitting time.

The most crucial test of the new government will be how it handles the economy. Despite its rhetoric, there has been no improvement in the economic situation; in fact unemployment has risen slightly from 14.3% to 14.8%. Neither has the flow of emigration slowed down. The government doesn’t seem to have a plan to end this crisis; instead it seems to be relying on criticizing Fianna Fail.

Although Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore promised a new dawn for Ireland, they have continued the same policies as Fianna Fail. A recurring criticism of the government is that it is implementing the exact same policies that Fianna Fail did, the same policies that they opposed in opposition. It is almost impossible to differentiate between speeches made by Fianna Fail last year and those made by Fine Gael and Labour this year. While both Fine Gael and Labour vigorously opposed every spending cut in opposition, they have cut 3 billion in government. While they opposed the bank guarantee and its renewal in opposition they supported it in government. They promised to fundamentally reform politics and society, but have failed to live up to expectations.

(This article was originally published by UCD student newspaper The College Tribune)

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