John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

THE IRISH GENERAL ELECTION, February 25 2011

I have been doing quite a bit of work in the Irish General Election on behalf of the party of which I have been a member since I was 18 years of age, Fine Gael.
As I see it, the election is about how best Ireland can regain its national economic freedom of action. Under the EU/IMF programme, without which our state could not now function, all decisions ,that have a significant economic cost or which depart from the programme agreed with EU/IMF, will have to have the consent of those bodies.
Ireland finds itself in this position because of foolish decisions of Irish banks, of some of their customers , and of those(mostly foreign banks) who lent to them. I believe the responsibility is widely shared, as I outlined in my recent letter to President Barroso of the European Commission, which is published elsewhere on this site. There is a valid argument that the Irish taxpayer is bearing a disproportionate share of what is, in effect , a necessary programme to rescue non Irish as well as Irish banks.
But even if the burden is more fairly distributed, there is still a huge burden that necessarily has to be borne by Irish taxpayers and by recipients of Irish Government services. One way or another, taxes will rise and services will diminish.
The two basic choices voters have to make in the election are
1. Whether to straighten out our finances quickly or slowly, in other words, whether to string the pain out over a long period, or over a shorter one,
2. Whether to elect a Government that will be able to do the job according to a single coherent plan, for which it takes full political responsibility, or whether it is to try to get the finances right on the basis of a compromise between the differing plans of a number of different parties negotiated after the election is over.
On the first point, I favour doing the job quickly rather than slowly. We need to get our economic freedom of action back as quickly as possible. It really is not good for Irish democracy to prolong the period in which we have to get EU/IMF permission to make decisions. In the future, interest rates will go up rather than down. The United States Federal Government has huge deficits which it is doing nothing about. This year it will borrow 1.3 billion dollars on behalf of it 300 million people, whereas EU Government will ONLY borrow 1 trillion dollars on behalf of their 500 million people. The cost of retiring baby boomers will be added to all these liabilities. These factors will combine to make it more expensive for Ireland to go on borrowing. Things are not going to get easier, so the sooner Ireland gets its economic independence back the better.
On the second point, in normal times, I would see little or no difficulty with electing a Dail in which a coalition of two or more parties would be the only way to form a Government. But, naturally, coalition Governments always consist of parties some of whose objectives will conflict , and who remain political rivals. When economic times are difficult, and tough decisions have to be made, that leads to problems when there is a coalition. We saw that in 1987 with the FG/Labour coalition, and again this year with the FF/Green coalition.
This is why I argue that, objectively, a single party Government would be the most effective outcome to this General Election, and the best way to put the country on a path towards regaining its economic independence quickly.
A single party Government could make decisions more quickly and minimise wasteful and expensive delays. It would operate to a single internally consistent programme, rather than on the basis of compromises negotiated under time pressure, in the short period between polling day and the first meeting of the new Dail. With a decisive mandate from the people, it would be best placed to negotiate with the EU and the IMF.
I believe these arguments will resonate with a significant share of votes who would have supported Fianna Fail in previous General Elections, but who are now looking for a change.
Fianna Fail supporters have always valued national economic independence. They have always put great store on patriotism. They have often voted Fianna Fail in the past because they wanted strong and stable, and if possible, single party Government . They did so because they were convinced that was for the good of the country.
Now , their old party, for various reasons, in not in a position to provide any of these things. But Fine Gael is.
Fine Gael is now best placed to provide what Fianna Fail voters looked for in the past.
The logical vote in this election, for people who subscribe to these traditional Fianna Fail values , is a vote for Fine Gael.
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1 Comment

  1. The incumbent government are so jaded and obsolete that even they recognise the game is up. The next consideration is what majority the next government have in parliament. Those with long memories will realise the real and grevious danger that idle and unoccupied politicans present in a democracy. They need look no further back than the 1977 Irish general election to demonstate this.

    This means the electorate have to decide if they want a single-party government led by Fine Gael, perhaps with some support from Independents who are sufficiently stable to cope with the life of the next Dail, or should they opt for a coalition with Labour where SIPTU and their counterpart rule the roost, as if they had a mandate from Christ.

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