I should logically be a solid FG supporter, but I’m not. The reason why is that I find FG a party of panderers with a weak sense as to why they came into politics other than to publicly display an almost sociopathic inferiority complex about Fianna Fail.
So what would it take for Enda to convince me to go FG? Here’s the speech he’d need to make:
” My fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen: I stand before you today to ask you to elect me to the office of Taoiseach. As part of that, I would like to share with you some of the ideas I would like to pursue if you choose to elect me to that office.
Firstly, let us be clear. Under me, times will be hard. The cuts in public spending will continue, tax rises may also have to continue, and let no one be under any illusion about that. Across our country, many people have said that they do not mind sacrifice, but it must be fair, and that the better off should pay more. I agree with those principles, but I must also tell you the hard truth: The gap between the money we take in taxes and the money we spend on services is so great that ordinary people on modest incomes are going to carry the burden. Yes, the well off must pay their fair share, but taxing the well off in a punishing manner will not raise enough money on its own, and those who say it will are at best naive and at worse pursuing their own selfish agenda. We are all going to feel the pain, and as your Taoiseach I would like to begin a new phase in our political life by admitting to you that ugly, unpopular truth.
Many commentators have said that we must protect the vulnerable. This is a very decent statement to make, until we start to identify whom exactly are the vulnerable? It is at this point that every group in the country declares itself to be part of the vulnerable, and therefore should be exempt from hardship. Yet, when we add them all up, we get most of the people in the country which makes the exercise pointless. If I am elected Taoiseach, I will be paid well, and there is a reason for this. I will be expected to provide leadership, and make decisions, including decisions that will make me deeply unpopular. I will have to decide who gets what, and who goes without. In other words, who is the most vulnerable?
Well, here is my answer:
As Taoiseach, I will attempt, where money can be moved from one area to another, to protect the children of low income families, people with disabilities, and low income senior citizens. Everyone else will have to take up the extra burden. This is not a perfect solution, and there are many other groups who feel that they are equally deserving, but decisions must be made for the common good at the price of being popular. It was the refusal to make unpopular decisions by my predecessors which have us in the crisis we are now in. If you want to hold this office, you must be willing to make hard and unpopular choices. The Taoiseach is paid not to bask in the job but do it, and I will do it.
Fianna Fail is a party with a chequered history. It has delivered many good and progressive achievements to this country. But the fact is, the last time Fianna Fail were removed from office in a general election was 27 years ago, in November 1982. Fianna Fail is paralysed in office, lacking in imagination and exhausted by the burdens of office. When one looks at the reaction of Fianna Fail backbenchers to the reduction in junior minister numbers or scrapping of ministerial pensions, believing them to be entitlements regardless of the current economic hardship, it is quite apparent that Fianna Fail TDs are out of touch with the lives of most Irish people. For the good of our country, for a healthy democracy, and even for Fianna Fail itself, Fianna Fail must be removed from office.
There are some parties in the country that are reluctant to commit to removing Fianna Fail, and want an each way bet on the outcome of the general election. I can only speak for Fine Gael, and other parties must make up their own minds. Personally, I would like to see the Labour party and Fine Gael present the Irish people with a joint programme for government and also a joint front bench, led by Eamonn Gilmore and myself as equals. But let no one have any doubt: Fine Gael will campaign openly on a guarantee that it will not return Fianna Fail to office. We will openly attempt to recruit voters of other parties who share that wish, if their own parties are hesitant to commit to that goal. We will not hesitate to inform voters of the consequences of voting for another party and getting a Fianna Fail Taoiseach for free in return. If someone is campaigning with the possible intent of keeping Fianna Fail in office they are part of the problem, and I will say so. People are entitled to be able to vote for a clear break with the Fianna Fail past and I will give them that choice.
As I have said earlier, I cannot claim that by electing my party the pain will end. We are all, as a country, going to know hardship in the near future. The future will be about managing our limited resources in as effective a way as possible, and trying to minimise the pain in as fair a way as possible. But bear this in mind, and this is important because it goes to the heart of how I will run this country if elected to do so: A government led by me will place job creation and the creation of wealth in this country as a priority over spending money on public services, because we must earn money first before we can tax it for public services. I will place the repairing of the public finances as the next priority. It is only when we have put in place a fund to create a buffer against a future drop in revenue will I permit for general public spending to increase again. If we had done this in the past, we would not have to implement the savage cutbacks now in place, and a government led by me is going to learn from the reckless and wasteful mistakes of the past in order to protect the future.
That is not to say that we must not try to shape the cutbacks to inflict as little pain as possible. As Taoiseach, I will set up an indedpendent Oireachtas Budget Office which will be available for use by all members regardless of party, and also by recognised lobby groups and social partners. Instead of just handing down cutbacks from above, we will announce future proposed cuts and allow members of the Oireachtas and the social partners, with their hands-on day-to-day experience the resources to suggest alternatives costed and verified by the Oireachtas Budget Office. In other words, everybody will have a fair say, but must put their money where their mouths are. It is not good enough to oppose something. You must bring your alternative to the table, and I as Taoiseach will make that possible.
Our political system has shown itself during this crisis to be in need of change to reflect the needs of our modern country. We have over 1000 elected public officials in this country, and yet public confidence in the effectiveness of our political system has been challenged. Do we need 226 members of the Oireachtas? Does our electoral system ensure that men and women of calibre are attracted into public life? Do we need 30 odd county councillors in every county powerlessly shaking their their fists at the county manager? Or should we have less politicians just talking but instead elected mayors with real power to run their counties free from Dublin interference? In other countries, talented experts are appointed ministers. Should we consider all these things? I believe so, and that is why I shall convene a constitutional convention of politicians and citizens to meet and within 18 months present the Oireachtas with proposals for running the country with fewer but better elected public officals.
I also intend utilising the right, as Taoiseach, to appoint people of talent to the Seanad and into the cabinet, and may amend the law to allow for the appointment of non-TDs as junior ministers. Ministerial office is not a reward, it is a duty, and I shall treat it accordingly. This country is full of talented people in business, the arts and the voluntary sectors put off by our current political system, but with skills and energy and experience to offer. I intend to ask those people to step up because their country needs them now.
Finally, it is my intention, within the first eight weeks of office, to pass two bills immediately. The first shall permit for the dismissal of the membership of every state board. There is no point the people voting out Fianna Fail in an election if Fianna Fail gets to remain in charge of every state body. These will be replaced by yes, supporters of the new government, but I also will pledge that at least 25% of every state board will be made up of ordinary citizens who will be invited to submit their CVs to an independent body which shall recommend suitable appointments. Your taxes pay for these state boards, and so you should have a right to sit on them.
Secondly, I shall pass a bill which will double the sitting time of Dail Eireann from the current 90 days to 180. The work is there, and it is time the Dail gets to it.
My fellow Irishmen and women, If we have learnt anything in the last 12 years it is that politicians promising great prizes without cost inevitably lead to disappointment. Things are going to be hard, and I cannot, indeed will not, promise you easy solutions, because there aren’t any. We are a nation of just over 4 million people being tossed around in a global storm of 6 billion, and the best we can do is stop the boat taking on water, and protect the sails for when the sea calms, as it will. In this election, you can do two things with a Fine Gael vote. One, you can punish Fianna Fail for failing to save some of the huge tax revenues of the Celtic Tiger for the hard times. They say that they could not have known, but I’m sorry Taoiseach, for 300 grand a year you should have at least known that the rainy day always comes eventually.
Secondly, with a Fine Gael vote you will get a fresh government of talented people eager to look at new ways of doing things, people who see being in government as an honour, not a right.
Times are tough, but we’re going to get through this. I hope you can join me.