What if a Right-Wing Government was elected in Ireland (Part 3)

One of the questions political pundits asked as the results of the Irish general election of 2034 came in was how no one had predicted it. One older pundit pointed out that the new generation of political correspondents simply were not paying attention to the technical details of the voting system changes the government had made, more concerned with running vox pops and high-emotion stories, but there was a more significant factor at play. The outgoing government had quietly amended the terms of reference of the constituency boundary commission to push their constitutional limit, and restrict all constituencies to a maximum of three seats. Sinn Fein, as the main opposition party, had made a perfunctory objection but then had gone quiet for the exact same reason the NDP supported it. Because under the Irish Single Transferable Vote system, a small number of seat per constituency makes the quota of votes needed to be elected higher, and generally that allows larger party candidates to stay in the count longer, picking up additional preferences as the smaller parties’ candidates get eliminated. It makes a two party system more likely, especially with polls showing both the NDP and Sinn Fein neck and necking in the late 30s.

The Progressive Alliance (PA) of Fianna Fail, Labour, the Social Democrats and the Greens had, much to the surprise of the media, managed to agree a pact, running joint PA candidates, and between them had polled into the early teens right up until the final week before polling day, and the TV debate between the party leaders. Both Sinn Fein and the NDP had insisted that all party leaders be invited, not just the charismatic senator PJ Okono of Fianna Fail, the de facto alliance leader. Despite his pleading, the other three ineffectual party leaders insisted upon attending. Okono, who was probably the finest political orator of his generation, was reduced in time to fit in the others, and failed to have the impact he could have had in the debate, just as Sinn Fein and the NDP planned.

The count revealed its secrets quickly. The NDP vote had dropped slightly, and the alliance parties had all seen an increase in their votes, but the three seat carve-up (“The EveMander”, a few wags called it) delivered exactly as expected. PA candidates were doing respectably but narrowly losing the third seats to either NDP or SF candidates. As the final results came in on Sunday morning, it was clear that the NDP had scraped a slightly increased majority, and that the country was now a Two Party With Scraps system, the only real benefit being Okono topping the poll in Mayo and other PA candidates acting as sweepers for Fianna Fail. Fine Gael barely registered in the election, its voters and members effectively decamped to the NDP or Fianna Fail.

 

Irish general election 2034
% Seats
New Dems 43 86
SF 43 72
FG 2 0
FF 5 8
Labour 2 0
Green 2 0
Soc Dems 1 0
Alphabet left 1 0
Independents 1 0
100 170 Majority 85

The newly-elected government moved quickly on its success. The referendum on polling day to allow the government to limit the number of asylum seekers passed by 62%, and despite various objections from the European Commission and the European Parliament the reality was there were enough governments of comparable bent sitting on the European Council to allow the government to “do an Orban” and ignore Brussels on this matter. Work began immediately on building state of the art refugee processing centres modelled more on Centre Parcs than the dire Direct Provision facilities. The far-right mounted protests outside NDP TDs offices that the government was building “resorts for foriegners”.

The new budget finally delivered on the national security commitments promised for decades by various governments. The government would meet the 2% NATO defence spending obligation (despite not being in NATO), and would soon take delivery of a dozen second-hand Rafale fighters from France, as well as four brand new Naval vessels specifically equipped for patrolling Ireland’s undersea infrastructure and acting against unauthorised vessels sub-surface. There would also be considerable investment in existing and new Defence Forces facilities acros sthe country. However, the minister for defence told the house that given the controversial nature of additional security spending, extra funding to specific counties would only go ahead with the written consent of local TDs. If local TDs objected, the extra funding would go to other counties. The opposition were in uproar for forty minutes.

The government also decided to focus on the question of a United Ireland. The previous Sinn Fein government had set up a citizen’s assembly which had produced a report with much aspiration and little detail, and so the government decided to move forward, commissioning an expert legal panel to draft a new constitution for a United Ireland to act as a debate opening document.

The Taoiseach also raised the age-old question of funding the new entity. Speaking at the commissioning of the new naval ship LE Fiontar, she announced that a country that was serious about reunification should start planning for it, and so the government intended to introduce a modest Unity Tax on income, pensions and social welfare payments, the revenue which would go into a “lockbox” to fund the gap in spending if needed when a United Ireland eventually came about. She stressed that pretty much every adult in the country would pay it, as she had no doubt that every Irish patriot would be happy to make a contribution to such an enterprise. Finally, however, she said that given it was such a long-term plan, saving money for possibly years or decades, she would put the proposal to a referendum and that the Irish people would finally be able to firmly put their foot down in favour of a United Ireland, but also show they world they were just talking about it but putting their money where their mouths where.

As if that weren’t enough, she also announced that the government intended to seek approval in a referendum to proceed with the building of a number of nuclear power plants around the country, along side a number of fast-tracked massive wind and solar farms, both on and offshore. She stressed that no community would be forced to take either without prior approval in a local plebiscite. However, she also proposed that given we were asking local communities to carry the burden of national energy infrastructure, those same communities would also be designated, if they voted accordingly, income tax free zones up to a very generous threshold, the idea being that such a threshold would protect house prices as it would transfer with the home.

We will, she said, abide by the will of the people.

Short Story: Moving Day.

America. The near future.

Tom put the very last box into the truck with not a little bit of relief, as it was pretty much the last bit of space in the truck. Molly and the kids were going through the house, supposedly checking to see if there was anything left, but in reality dragging out their departure. There’d been tears from the kids when they’d told them they were moving, and he hardly blamed them. This was the house they’d grown up in. The school they attended was just three blocks over, and they’d trick or treated on these doors with other kids, or attended birthday parties or barbeques in other people’s backyards so many times. This was home. 

It wasn’t the first time he’d had to move house, but this had been different. Of course it had. For one, he’d had to do most of the loading himself, if only because so many of the people who might have helped were busying packing their own families’ stuff, or had already moved. Then there were those neighbours who might have helped in the past, but now just glared through a window. 

As the kids made their final rounds, Tom lowered the US flag that flapped in the light breeze from the pole over the porch. A former marine, he treated it with respect, carefully folding it as per regulation and placing it snugly in the trunk of the car, between two pillows so as to not get creased. There was a lot of talk about new flags these days.

Tom looked at his watch. They were just on time. 

“Ok, let’s go,” he shouted into the house, and the family appeared at the door. Molly was struggling to hold back tears.

Tom gave her a hug and closed the door behind them, and they all got into the car. He was determined not to look back as they pulled away. 

Their appointment was not far away, and it wouldn’t be a disaster if they missed it, but Tom wanted to just move on and get things done. He wanted to be in the new house, and wouldn’t feel comfortable until…well…he didn’t like to think about it.

The appointment was in a Walmart car park which had been temporarily taken over by the army for the purpose. Tom joined a queue of cars waiting. He was reassured to see US Army soldiers and armoured vehicles. Overhead a helicopter patrolled noisily.

“Honey, have you got…” he said to Molly, but she was way ahead of him, and had them in her hand. A soldier with a clipboard reached the car, and Tom rolled down the window. 

“Good afternoon sergeant,” Tom said.

“Good afternoon sir. Can I take your IDs please?”

Tom handed over their United States Citizen identity cards. The soldier thanked him, and scanned each into a handheld scanner, then peeked into the automobile to match faces.

“Good afternoon ladies: we’ll have you ready very quickly.”

He handed back the cards, noted the car registration, and leaned in again.

“You’re with 246. About ten minutes I’d say.”

Tom thanked him, and closed the window. 

Tom looked at the cards again. He still couldn’t quite believe he had to carry mandatory identification, but he understood why. He remembered the night Molly and he had sat down and made the decision, as every American family did.

A soldier stood on the back of a jeep and spoke through a bullhorn. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, could those of you in convoy 246 please follow us. You all have been issued with your emergency hotline number. If you have a problem during the convoy please call it. Do not leave the convoy without calling as we will not be stopping other than at designated break areas.”

Tom checked his gas level again: he’d filled the tank as the kids were bringing down their boxes. They had water, snacks, phones were charged, and he’d make sure everyone had used the bathroom.

The army vehicles roared into life, and pulled out, the hundred or so civilian vehicles following them, a collection of stationwagons, SUVs, rental trucks and RVs. What struck Tom was that all had that overloaded look, like each was packing a family’s whole life into them, which was often true. As they drove through the suburbs they could see state police cars with flashing lights blocking roads to let them pass the agreed route. Occasionally crowds of protestors had gathered to hurl abuse, waving flags. The soldiers on the vehicles in the convoy watched those crowds carefully as they passed. 

They were among the last convoys to leave. After Sunday, it was up to people to make their own arrangements, and whilst that technically shouldn’t be an issue following the Biden-DeSantis Accord, Tom was still glad they had an army escort. There had been stories. People killed, families hounded from neighborhoods they’d lived in their whole lives, militias ordering people to leave states. Yet it was still better than the full frontal civil war that had been brewing. This was the least worst option.

The decision hadn’t been hard. They loved their home, their city, but they could see what was happening. That there was basically one way to think and if you don’t agree you’re one of them. When the website asked them to make their decision, and upload the information, they knew they hadn’t really a choice, because one thing was adamant: you had to choose one. You could not be both. It was one of the few things that even former Presidents Trump and Obama agreed on. Even when it emerged later that President Trump realised the implication for his businesses, but by then it was too late even for him. His daughter and son-in-law recognised it. 

There had been quite a lot of schadenfreude particularly when older white people had made their choice, then realised what they had actually voted for, and tried to reverse their decision. No take-backs, the president said.

Molly and the kids were fast asleep by the time they had pulled away from the final scheduled breakstop, and hit the road again. The convoy slowed to a halt in dense traffic, and the army helicopters circled aggressively, as if to deter would-be attackers. This was the most dangerous part, he’d been warned. Across the freeway he could see similarly loaded cars speeding past from the other directions, full of kids and families, He could see kids cheering in some of the cars. 

As the convoy got closer, the huge structure was visible, with armed soldiers patrolling on top of it, and powerful lights illuminated the whole area. There were more flags on either side of it than at a political convention. 

Tom could see the lead army convoy vehicle wave at the soldier on the barrier, who opened it and waved them through.

“Hey kids, you’re going to want to see this!” Tom said, and the family awoke from their slumber just as they passed the sign announcing “You are now leaving the Constitutional States of America”, and beside it flew the South Carolina state flag, which had a symbol restored to it that would have been approved of by Jefferson Davis.     

Europe needs a plan.

Wrote this last year…

And it is as much about where Europe is not heading as where it is.

If you ever want to increase your general euroscepticism, spend a few days hanging around EU institutions. The sheer complexity of getting anything done, in a union of 27 countries with competing political systems, national prejudices and hangups is nothing as compared to a certain type of EU official you meet for whom the answer to ever problem is…go on, guess.

More Europe.

Let me be very clear: I’m a European federalist. I believe in a United States of Europe. But that does not mean that I think that every solution involves Brussels. Indeed, I could even be convinced that maybe some existing powers should be returned to the member states.

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What if…King Charles III sought a democratic mandate?

The British prime minister brushed her sweeping blonde hair back from her eyes, giving herself a moment to consider what the new king had just asked her. It had to be said: Charles had taken on the mantle of sovereign before her eyes, with surprising ease.

Yes, he had spent his whole life waiting for this moment, as had the country, but the transformation from gangly awkward youth to a more well-filled figure had made him look, quite simply, more like a king.

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What will actually happen if Marine Le Pen wins?

Let’s cut to the proverbial chase: what will Marine Le Pen do if she reaches the Elysee? The truth is that we don’t know, and neither, probably, does she. As we witnessed with Brexiteers and Trump: often the populists don’t have a plan beyond winning.

She’s given clues, of course. She’s said she will withdraw France once again (as de Gaulle did) from NATO’s military command (but not seemingly NATO itself) and it’s not unreasonable to think that she will stop French support for Ukraine. She has suggested that she does not feel France is bound by NATO’s article 5 guarantee to defend any NATO member that is attacked. If true, that is huge, because France is physically vital to NATO’s defence of Europe. A Europe without French access will struggle to be supplied by the US. It would, in short, be an act of treason against Europe.

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The High Risk Voter.

Whatever happens in the French presidential election, there is a reality that will need to be confronted. It’s a phenomenon we have seen in the last two US presidential elections, in the Brexit referendum, and will no doubt be a feature in future elections.
It is the huge danger caused by reckless voters.
Now, let me be clear: this is not your standard Metropolitan Globalist Liberal (of which I am all three) complaining about how disappointed I am about people who don’t share my views, or their level of intelligence or prejudice. I accept that there are many decent people who voted for Trump, Brexit and yes, even Marine Le Pen. People who in many cases did not share the more extreme views of those candidates.
I even accept that there are people, particularly non-urban, low-income and low-educational achievers who vote for candidates I would regard as extremist because they simply feel they are being ignored by the mainstream parties. I get that too., and it may surprise you that I don’t blame them.
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What if…Ireland changed its voting system?

There are perennials of Irish political debate, and none more perennial than “We need to get rid of multi-seat constituencies” as the solution to all our political woes. If only we got rid of the “parish pump” competition at local level, we’d get a better standard of TD.

There’s also a growing body in the country who have latched on to the “nobody voted for this coalition government” argument, and are yearning for a British-style election result, where one party (usually) clearly wins regardless of how the actual people of that country actually vote. Nobody may have voted for this government, but they didn’t vote for any other one either.

It’ll never happen, of course. The Irish people have been asked twice before to change the voting system, and have refused for clear reason. PR-STV isn’t going anywhere: in fact, I suspect it would be next to impossible to even get the referendum bill past the Oireachtas, never mind win a referendum. The most a government might get away with is reducing the constituency seats to three seaters, which would hurt small parties and give larger parties a seat bonus.

But even that’s risky: FG/Lab tried the infamous “Tullymander” in the 1977 general election, and it rebounded on them spectacularly giving FF the biggest majority in Irish history.

But if it were to happen, what would be the outcome? It depends on the alternative system. The most popular system on the continent, a list system, where people vote for a party and it fills seats based on the share of the vote it gets from a list of candidates, is unlikely to be accepted here. Most Irish voters wants to vote for an individual.

As a result, the most likely options are First Past The Post (FPTP) or STV in single seat constituencies (also known as the Alternative Vote). Either would be a radical change, but both would have side effects which I suspect would not please advocates of change.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system on Earth, a point its British advocates make a lot of noise about. Indeed, during the AV referendum in 2011, one of the main arguments used against the Irish electoral system was that it was too complicated for British voters. FPTP involves making a mark against a single candidate, and the most marks win. It allows a party to win a majority of the seats with a minority of the vote and is most likely to deliver a clear single party government even if a majority of the voters didn’t vote for it.  In 2005 it got Tony Blair a 60 seat majority despite 65% of voters not voting for him. Justin Trudeau got the most seats in the last two Canadian elections despite coming second to the Tories in votes. If you like your voting system to just vomit out results with occasionally a tangential link to how actual voters vote, FPTP is the one for you. It’s used in the UK, India, Canada, parts of the US and within some PR systems.

The Alternative Vote is used in Australia and is basically the same system we use in Ireland in presidential elections and  by-elections. It tends to create a de facto two-party system, as small parties rarely win seats, although their preferences do often decide the outcome, unlike FPTP.

Either system would be far less proportional than PRSTV, but it’s worth bearing in mind the role political culture would play hand in hand with either system. In the 1990s, hoping create a new more decisive political culture, Italy introduced FPTP for 75% of the seats in the lower house, with a 25% party list top-up. Whilst it did lead to some consolidation of parties, it also led to parties doing deals to stand down against each other in specific constituencies.

If Ireland switched to a single-seat system under either FPTP or AV, the number of constituencies would jump from 43 large ones currently to 168 much smaller ones (many the size of council wards), most with a nominal sitting deputy. But it would also open up a huge swathe of constituencies for parties that have no seat in them. For Sinn Fein and (probably) Fine Gael this would suit them, assuming they’d lead in many constituencies and would hope for transfers to get to the very high 50%+1 quota (under AV) or just the most votes under FPTP. For smaller parties, and I’m assuming FF in this (rightly or wrongly) there’d be a choice, be also-rans under FPTP or transfer fodder under AV. But there’d be alternatives too.

Under FPTP, FF, Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats, all with sitting TDs, could form a pact and run a single “Alliance” candidate in each constituency, giving them a chance at least. It wouldn’t be easy: all four parties would have members with problems, but FPTP is unforgiving. Get your shit together or see your votes just be ignored, especially as SF and FG would both be telling those parties voters that they were wasting their votes or helping the other big party by voting for the alliance.

AV would offer a similar challenge, although without the vote wastage of FPTP. Given the need to reach 50% of the vote, it’s not impossible that the two big parties might be willing to do a deal with smaller parties, even standing down in some constituencies or promising Seanad seats in return for transfer endorsements. Both would actively need transfers unlike under FPTP. One issue with AV would be the challenge for SF to get transfers even if it has an impressive first preference lead nationally. It’s not impossible that, as happened to FF in the 2011 election, preferences keeping going against SF to the extent (and angry frustration of SF supporters) that SF loses seats narrowly to other parties despite having, in their eyes, clearly “won” the election in terms of having come first in votes.

Interestingly, both systems could seriously hurt the Alphabet Left who would struggle to reach the vote levels requires to come first or meet the quota.

Either system would make a single party government more likely, although AV would require much greater voter consent. Having said that, the backroom dealing that permeates Irish politics could still result in a tiny number of TDs holding even more power than they do now. After all, even if Kerry or Tipp were transformed into multiple single-seat constituencies, would you absolutely rule out Michael Lowry or the Healy-Raes taking some of them?

The Great Low Tax Shoutdown

It’s funny the way a phrase enters the political lexicon. From Garrett Fitzgerald’s “flawed pedigree” to Albert Reynolds’ “that’s women for you”, there’s no guarantee that the meaning of the phrase will remain attached to the original intention of the speaker. The response to Leo Varadkar’s remark about “people who get up early in the morning” was fascinating. People on the Consensus Left commentariat immediately described it as an attack on anyone not working for whatever reason, and Fine Gael basically backed away and if not exactly disowned the remark certainly didn’t nail it to the proverbial political mast.

The funny thing is that, in my experience, there were large sections of the country who agreed with it, and not just the wealthy or professional classes either. They saw it not as an attack on welfare (there’s hardly any anti-welfare vote in any class in this country) but an endorsement of the ordinary workers who pay the taxes that fund everything.

Yet they were basically shouted off the stage by the Consensus Left who are to current political debate what the Catholic lay fanatics were to the state in its first fifty years of existence. I mention the Catholic lay fanatics because I was reminded this week of the disruption of Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars” by Catholic fundamentalists because there was reference to prostitution in the play, and its significance. The shouting down of social reality in a play not because it is a social issue but because the playwright dared to raise it in contravention of the then Catholic consensus.

We are, as a country, incredibly susceptible to groupthink, and the latest concept to be hoisted up before the people as a golden calf to be worshipped is the idea that “nobody wants tax cuts”. Wait and see when I post this on Twitter: I’ll be inundated with people telling me that I’m a Thatcherite neo-liberal (I’m actually more left wing than most of those who attack me. I support property taxes, for one) but more importantly, those attacking will trip over themselves to try to suggest that those advocating tax reduction are a tiny and unrepresentative minority out of step with the majority.

It’s bollocks. Don’t get me wrong: there is a very significant section of the country who will always support increased public spending over tax reduction, and many of them do not benefit from it directly, aside from the No Tax Cuts people who curiously insist upon talking in Take Home Pay terms. But talk to non-political people about politics, and time after time two issues do light up the eyes. The first is that sentences for violent crimes seem to be very light, and the second is that taxes are higher than is fair.

At this point in the debate, I normally get the “I would happily pay higher taxes for better services” people come galloping down the hill. And why not? It’s a very noble position, and perfectly reasonable. I’m not an ideological big government/small government person. Sometimes big government is needed: it wasn’t a sub-contracted private security firm that fought its way up Omaha beach. But the Happily Pay gang are very specific about what they’re against: “You can stick your €5 tax cut!”. But ask them what specifically giving the HSE the extra €100m extra instead of a €5 tax cut will get, in detail, in terms of specific service improvement, and suddenly the charging horde does a Holy Grail and runs away. They don’t like talking value for public spending.

It’s the strangest thing: once the concept of more money is agreed, they lose interest, with little interest in how its spent.

What’s more noticeable is how the centre-right in Ireland have bought the logic, almost apologizing for the idea that Irish workers might keep a little more of their own money. It’s simply wrong. There’s little reason to believe that visible tax reduction is an unpopular concept. After all, its chief opponents are people who will never not vote left anyway.

Having said that, let me bang on once again for the argument that FG should be advocating tax rebates rather than tax cuts. A bit of showmanship here is worth the effort: let the tax payers hold the lump sum cheque in their hands as a tangible example of tax reduction. Indeed, as the next general election approaches, it can be postdated for after the election, so that a new government would have the right to cancel the cheques. Let that be something worth debating in the next party leaders debate.

 

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The EU can’t create an army. But it can buy fighters.

There’s a lot of talk in the current climate about that great Continental mirage, a European Army. It’ll never happen, not unless there’s a radical change in the European situation. Even a Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to shake up the complacency of Europeans on defence issues.
However, with a bit of imagination Europe could help itself make a leap towards better self defence. One of the problems facing European defence is that the countries that are serious about defence (normally as a result of proximity to the Russian border) lack the financial resources to buy the high-cost tanks, fighters, drones and command and control systems and training needed to operate them. Poland and the Baltic States take their defence seriously, and with that the defence of Europe, but lack the cash of the less enthused.
So here’s a thought: what if the EU invested in the fighters and other equipment needed, buying them directly, and leased them to the frontline states? It would allow the frontline states to spend their limited resources on training and maintaining their service numbers. It would also allow the EU to ensure compatibility, and invest in military technology as the vast majority of the equipment would be bought and manufactured in Europe.                    I suspect it might be one defence issue where European consensus might be possible: European governments have traditionally been quite enthusiastic about selling weapons. 
Of course, there’d have to be safeguards to prevent countries using it as an excuse to cut their own defence budgets. But that’s the beauty of it: put in a minimum NATO style minimum defence spend and it’ll only be the enthusiastic countries that will be able to access it anyway.
And Ireland? Would we benefit from it? Not without increasing our defence spending. But it might allow us to spend more on paying our soldiers, sailors and airmen to actually stay in the Defence Forces. As for drawing down funds for capital defence big spends, one or two submarines wouldn’t go amiss for keeping an eye on our vital undersea cables, nor an A400M Airbus military transport for getting our citizens out of hotspots like Afghanistan. We could even share fighter pilot training costs with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and acquire that other novelty: sovereign Irish airspace. 

Do voters expectations now exceed what a democratic government can reasonably deliver?

Previously published in The Irish Independent:

Congratulations. You’ve just been whizzed back to Leinster House accompanied by speeding Garda outriders. You were just in Arás an Uachtaran where the wealthiest communist sympathiser in the country gave you your seal of office as the new minister for finance. Within hours you’ll be sitting at your desk in the Department of Finance, looking at a list.
Go on, try it. 
Put the following groups in order of who is most deserving of more resources (what we used to call taxpayer cash), with you saying that the ones near the top are more deserving, and the ones further down less deserving. 

Nurses.

Other HSE staff.

The rest of the public service.

Mental health services.

Cancer support services.

Capital expenditure.

University funding.

Childcare.

Jobseekers benefits.

Pandemic payments.

Children’s Allowance.

Care home services.

Social housing.

Homeless services.

Reform of Direct Provision.

Defence Forces pay.

Garda numbers.

Flood relief.

Water services.

Pandemic preparation.

Overseas Aid.

Arts funding.

RTE funding.

Irish language funding.

EU budget contribution (CAP).

Rainy day fund.

United Ireland fund.

SME support.

Regional and rural development support.

IDA grants.

Old Age pensions.

Servicing the national debt.

Public service pensions.

It’s some list, and I’m sure I’ve missed lots of worthy causes and sectors. 

But imagine being the minister looking at that list with a finite amount of money and every single vested interest behind each one of those areas not just demanding existing funds but looking for more. 
Not just demanding more but not giving the slightest toss about all the other competing groups. Their message is that they want less than the total budget as a whole and you don’t want to give it to them because you are one of history’s most uncaring monsters. And the next one will say the exact same. And the next one. 
That’s not even counting the people (often from the exact same groups demanding more cash) demanding that income tax, VAT, property tax or commercial rates be reduced, each one reducing your revenue and ability to meet the above demands.  
What would you do? The sensible thing to do is to prioritise on some, but even that is full of dangers. Favour business in the hope of generating more tax revenue from economic growth and you’ll be told you’re favouring the rich. Favour welfare and you will never ever hear its lobby group say “Actually, that’s enough, thanks very much.” 
Every one you favour will result in howls of anguish from every other group that they The Vulnerable are being neglected and you just don’t care. A good section of the country will say you’re hurting them deliberately. 
You’ll probably end up doing what every Irish finance minister does: try and spread the money as thinly as possible in a nearly always failed attempt to pacify as many as possible and instead unite a huge chunk of the country against you. Each group pretends that it is operating in a vacuum. No problem ever gets enough resources to close the file, if that is even possible. 
What you almost certainly won’t do is start an honest debate about the nature of public spending in Ireland. That we now live in a society where a majority of the population expect far more from their government than it can actually hope to deliver, and resent having to pay taxes for what they are currently getting. 
That our political culture is permeated by politicians who make vague promises that cannot even be measured, never mind delivered, and voters who essentially ask to be lied to. 
Even Irish governments that do quite well, which is most of them by international standards, become rapidly loathed by their voters because they can’t meet the overhyped expectations that got them elected in the first place. 
We’re currently reduced to the spectacle of Willie O’Dea and Mary Lou McDonald furiously competing to see who can ram more free money down the throats of voters with little regard for the long-time financing of our public finances. Compassion, wellness, solidarity and social justice are deemed valued assets in public finance debates, although not when actual public spending is being decided. Tell an NGO they’re getting a 10% increase in solidarity and they’ll tell you to shove it, hands grabbing for the greasy till just like the rest of us. 
Politicians promising the moon on a stick is not surprising. It’s been going on since Willicus Odeaicus Publicus Spendicus promised more free bread and bloodier Circus Maximuses (“You’ve seen humans eaten by lions! Well, I promise lions trampled by elephants!”). The complete unwillingness of politicians to even attempt to educate the public as to the rod they’ve made for their own backs is surreal. They literally keep secret the huge and undeliverable pressure they put themselves under from the public for no good reason I can muster, instead letting nonsense about how the rich or business pay no taxes ferment and help their populist opponents promise yet more and bigger elephants.
Here’s a thought: if it’s impossible for Irish centrist politicians to educate their voters, is it time someone else do it? Is it time for ISME, IBEC and the SFA to take on the task of running a public campaign to confront voters not with a campaign to convince but the simple realities about public spending and taxation. Given our reluctance to cut the €5 billion a year that goes to NGOs and charities in Ireland to lobby government, would it be the worst thing in the world to set up an NGO to put simple economic facts in front of voters? 

In fairness, there’s probably a grant available.