"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thoughts on the day of the calm before the (electoral storm)

The final furlong is underway; the radio and tv are staging their legally enforced broadcasting blackout; internecine struggles reach their highest pitch. The election is less than 24 hours away and no one knows what will happen. No one knew five years that Fine Gael would do so badly; no one knew in 1977 that Jack Lynch would win an overall majority. That is the great beauty of our system: whatever about the merits of the parties and leaders on offer, it is up to us to decide the question: Who governs?


I recently heard democracy being described as "government by opinion". The latest
measurement of public opinion showed a five-point shift to Fianna Fail (41%), at the expense of a one-point drop for Fine Gael (27%) and a three-point drop for Labour (10%). When the PD's and the Greens are added to the equation, Monday's poll put the present Government parties and the Rainbow alternative tied at 43%.


As I thought might happen, the Opposition yesterday
raised the spectre of a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein government. Both the Taoiseach and Minister denied the possibility of an explicit deal with Sinn Fein, but the latter stated Fianna Fail could receive “unsolicited support.” Eoghan Harris has said recently in the Sunday Independent that Bertie Ahern would rather take a chainsaw and cut off his own legs than give Mary Lou McDonald a ministry. I agree. I'd be amazed if a FF-SF deal were to happen this time around.


Today's Irish Times Head2Head slot features articles by Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny.
Mr Ahern (sub req'd) says:
"Our record in government is second to none. We have raised pensions, cut hospital waiting lists from years to months, brought in 3,000 new gardaí, cut taxes, built roads and the Luas, raised child benefit and helped to create 600,000 jobs. This represents more progress in a shorter time than achieved under any government in our history.

I understand we have not solved every problem these past 10 years. I know that the advances we have made on so many fronts, and which are so visible around us, do not mean the end of the challenges we face. But I believe the best way ahead is to build on our progress, not turn our back on it. This election is about the future.

I am excited about the possibilities. There is so much more that we can do, now
that we have built the foundation of sustained prosperity. Fianna Fáil has a specific, costed and ambitious plan for Ireland's future. It's the Next Steps Forward. This is a plan that has been costed, and thought through."

After reeling off the campaign promises we have heard repeatedly over the last few weeks, Mr Ahern repeats claims he made in the debate last Thursday night, such as that the Fine Gael/Labour tax proposal amounts to "[t]ax cuts directed towards the wealthiest few", in particular top 3 per cent of earners, and that no child born today would benefit from the Fine Gael/Labour plan for free GP visits for children aged under five. (Enda Kenny fluffed the point last Thursday night, but explained to Pat Kenny on Radio 1 Monday morning that the plan is to negotiate the proposal in the first 100 days of the new administration and put it into effect in one fell swoop. The effect of that would be that, contrary to Fianna Fail's allegation, plenty of children born today would stand to benefit.) The Taoiseach concludes his Irish Times article by saying that:
"Enda Kenny's contract with Ireland is a fraud. It isn't worth the billboard it is written on."
"[H]ere is the choice: should we build on the progress of the last 10 years, or take a risk, with unproven leadership and uncosted promises?
I ask for the chance to work with you to keep building an Ireland that our children and grandchildren can live and prosper in, an Ireland of pride and great purpose. It's up to all of us to get out to the polls, so that the peace and prosperity of the last decade can be defended and developed.
Now is the time for Ireland to take the Next Steps Forward."


Enda Kenny's Irish Times
piece (sub req'd) predictably attacks the Taoiseach's recent use of the word "peripheral" to describe the problems in healthcare and education. After that jibe, Kenny sets out his vision:
"I understand what needs to be done to tackle the challenges facing our country. I have an ambition for the country and a vision for where it should be in the next five and 10 years. Having a vision of a strong economy with public services to match is not enough.
To realise that vision you need an agenda for action. I have set out my agenda for action in my Contract for a Better Ireland, which lays out the fundamental building blocks of a new and better country."

The article tries to focus readers' attention on the health service (the Fine Gael/Labour Alliance for Change has called the election a referendum on the state of the health service):
"To change the health service for the better, you have to change the government.
The commitments in my contract on health will bring a transformation to our hospitals and our families. With more beds, we reduce waiting in A&Es and for critical life-saving operations. We also make our hospitals places of healing rather than infection. With properly equipped isolation units we can control the hospital-acquired infections that are plaguing our nation.
With better healthcare for our children, we will be rearing the healthiest generation our country has ever seen.
Investment now will pay immeasurable dividends in future years, both in health and the quality of their lives."

The Fine Gael leader then repeats his pledge to hold himslef accountable to his Contract, and to hold Ministers accountable for incompetence:
"After years of cynicism about politics and politicians, after years of deception and broken promises, I believe it's time a politician stepped up to the line and took responsibility for their actions in government.
Having fulfilled my contract, and only having fulfilled my contract, will I stand again, before you, the people of Ireland, and ask you to re-elect me as taoiseach. And if I have not, I will not.

If you want politicians to be as accountable as you are in your own life, then vote for the contract and vote for Fine Gael.
Tomorrow, for the first time ever in an Irish election, people will have the chance to vote for a politician who is willing to stand up and take responsibility for their actions in government.
I am that politician."


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