Phil Hogan’s €100 Household Charge is a classic example of an Irish political issue, in that it causes a row and yet completely lacks any imagination. Why is central government levying it at all? Why aren’t local councillors deciding on wghat it should be, or cutting their own budgets by the amount it would levy, or a mixture of the two? Of course, there is one reason why Big Phil doesn’t want to do that. Fine Gael councillors, who run most of the councils, would be horrified at having to actually make decisions and choices as opposing to bitching about/at the county manager. But even FG is missing the point. The county councils will probably be in the hands of loads of opposition parties by the time of the next general election: It’ll be Fianna Fail, the Shinners and the United Left who will have to make those decisions then!
But it does highlight one of the great failures of Irish politics, which has been the ability of people on the hard left to build and maintain an entire political career on making empty promises that never have to be kept. Whether it’s the bank bailouts or cuts in public services or local taxation, a pantheon of hard left exclamation pointers (No bailout! Smash the govt! Down with stuff!) have gotten themselves elected as a permanent chorus of the cranky. Whose fault is this? I blame, primarily because they have been in government the longest, Fianna Fail. By centralising any power worth having in the country into the hands of either the cabinet, county managers or quangos rather than individually accountable elected officials, Fianna Fail set themselves up as the ultimate source of blame for when things went wrong. Of course everything is Fianna Fail’s fault. Who else had any power?
Fine Gael, with their distinct lack of enthusiasm for radical reform of local government, are showing that they don’t get it either, which is sad, because now is a great time politically for sharing the blame. Do FG and Labour not get that they could give FF, SF and the ULA an almighty kick in the political goolies by bringing in elected mayors with tax raising powers? All of a sudden Mayor Clare Daly of Dublin Fingal is having to explain why she is not creating a socialist paradise in Swords? Yes, they’ll still blame the government, but if they are the ones whose names appear on the property or household charge forms when they arrive (Which a sneaky government would require them by law to do, as the controlling officer of the authority) that’ll soften their cough.
The problem, of course, is that Fine Gael is just as much governed by do-nothing inertia as Fianna Fail, and haven’t got the straegic vision to see that ceding some power will help them in the long run. As I’ve written previously, elected mayors could be banned from running for the Dail, which would cause major difficulties for the opposition parties in terms of Dail candidates. Not that that should be a deciding factor, but it is a factor nevertheless.