Fool me Once - Shame on You. Fool me Twice - Shame on Me
North Wicklow Fianna Fáil Activist James Doyle urges Wicklow voters to beware of Fantasy Figures and Auction Politics in the run up to this Friday's General Election
This week Wicklow voters will vote in the general election. For the first time in 5 years we will vote on what kind of Ireland we want. We will vote for whom we think is best equipped to realize that Ireland - and legislate for our interests within it.
2011 was a low point in modern Irish history. Without digging up memories of that economic, social and political nightmare, let’s just say we were deeply disappointed and extremely annoyed. On polling day the vast majority delivered a strong message to Dáil Eireann. We voted for change. Not simply a change of government - though we did that too. Change in the sense that whatever part of the crisis was caused by domestic factors we wanted that part to never happen again and those Irish causes to be stripped from our political system.
We had woken up from our shared nightmare, we resolved that it must never ever happen again. ‘Reform’ was the buzzword. A functioning republic the destination of choice. How would we get there? Alternative voting systems, the fallacy of TDs being whipped by their party bosses and a more equitable and less property-skewed taxation system were some of the proposals put forward. Without going into detail, we're nowhere near the reformed republic we deserve and - back in 2011 - demanded.
What about empty and unrealistic promises on services and taxes? Judging by the sound bites and lack of costings so far this time around it seems Irish auction politics is as strong as ever. Flick through the canvass literature for yourself. There's no limit to the promises that we Wicklow voters are being showered with: abolishing the USC, removing Irish Water and Water Charges, increasing housing supply, reducing class sizes, increasing garda numbers and boosting nurse and healthcare resources. We hear less on how exactly infrastructure projects will be funded; on who amongst us will suffer service cuts as a result of a reduced tax take; and whether the growth forecasts propping up all these good news items are sustainable in the long run let alone realistic on day one of the next government's term of office.
The conventional candidate technique is quite simple: Push all the fancy good stuff in the shop window, nudge away any inconvenient questions about the price tag or the terms and conditions, and the votes will surely roll in. Meet Peter. Peter has a job but feels he pays too much tax when income tax and USC is totted up. He also has a child with learning needs. Peter and his partner are paying privately to meet her needs. Together they feel passionately that more could be done to increase resource hours for their child. As a commuter Peter laments the lack of reliable and frequent public transport.
Candidates naturally understand this. But here's the catch - meeting every one of Peter's specific needs will inevitably come at a price: meet Paul. Paul lives on the other side of the constituency to Peter. Tomorrow that same candidate will knock on Paul’s door. Paul is self employed. He resents that he cannot clock up PRSI credits the way Peter does. If he loses his business again he has no “safety net” - like the one Peter has. Paul’s mother has been ill for some time. Recently hospital visits have become more frequent – waiting on trolleys is something Paul feels very strongly about. What does the conventional and cunning candidate promise?
Irish politics was once built upon this type of creative story telling. Numbers and hard facts were dished out by one's accountant or lawyer - not by the local TD.
2011 was supposed to change all that. There is nothing wrong in supporting a candidate or party that pledges to improve healthcare for our aging parents or an increase in the number of Gardai on the streets of Arklow or Bray. We will vote for what we - as individuals and communities – think will get in return.
However if we’ve any interest in what Ireland will be like in 5, 10 or 15 years time we have a responsibility to ask where the money for all these services and tax cuts will come from. We need to ask our candidates and political parties to explain how exactly the sums add up. Failure to do so will not only perpetuate the "all things to all men" formula of Irish retail politics, it will set up our country (and with it our children's future) for a major fall when the next negative economic ripple pulses across the globe. Before opening the door or reading candidate literature reflect for a moment: "Fool me once - Shame on you. Fool me twice - Shame on me."