Years Of Promise





From top: Dick Spring (left) and Barry Desmond launching Labour Party’s General Election campaign, 1992; Anne Marie McNally

In Irish politics, long-term performance is less important than short-term factors

Anne Marie McNally writes:

To support the ins when things are going well; to support the outs when they seem to be going badly, in spite of all that has been said about Tweedledum and Tweedledee, is the essence of popular Government’ (Walter Lippman, The Phantom Public)

Those words were uttered in 1925 over 90 years ago but surely we, as an engaged citizenry, have evolved from such simplistic political actions and we instead base our electoral decisions on a complete overview and a more considered analysis of the long-term performance of those we might consider gifting our vote to.

We’re not simply going to fall for the hype and the fancy spun-out words tapping into the zeitgeist sure we’re not?

We’re going to judge people and their respective parties based on past actions and their ability to stand by their word, aren’t we?

You would think, nay hope, that would be the case. However, recent experiences, and current polls, seem to indicate that that is not in fact the case.

In 1992 when Labour swept to power, political scholars including Brian Girvin commented that despite the strong showing by Labour the result was less a vote of confidence in that party but rather a vote for change.

The same can be said of Fine Gael’s success in 2011 when the electorate quite literally went ABFF (Anybody But Fianna Fáil), most recently in 2016 the desire for change raised its head in its most dramatic way yet – but dramatic only by virtue of the increased choice available outside of the traditional 2.5 party system so long prevalent in Ireland.

But on the margins of that significant vote for change was a decided move back towards the old lover/enemy; Fianna Fáil.

The old adage of ‘better the devil you know’ seemed to resound in many voters heads. It was likely helped along by the fact that their 2011 vote for ‘change’ had resulted in 5 years of a Fine Gael/Labour coalition which had cut to the bone in ways few thought imaginable based on the promises and hyperbole from both parties during the 2011 campaign.

In the absence of any meaningful change despite the many promises proffered throughout the decades, many voters have, it seems, chosen to give Fianna Fáil a pass and ignore previous indiscretions in favour of their current stance as the party holding things together and making things happen.

The same Fianna Fáil who paved the path to the privatisation of education is now sanctimoniously decrying the removal of student grants.

I could list myriad other examples. It’s the popular message of the day and so it’s their message – and that’s fine for a centrist party who seek to tap into Lippman’s hypothesis above.

I don’t mean this as a critique specifically aimed at Fianna Fáil, it just so happens that they are the party benefiting from the electorate’s rose-tinted glasses at the moment if polls are to be believed.

Equally the same criticisms can be levelled at any of the two and a half traditional parties of old Irish politics at various points throughout history it’s just that right now they’re the outs and Fianna Fáil are the ins.

Political academia is divided on this topic but increasingly the theory is that long-term performance is less important than short-term factors and specifically economic issues.

The irony is not lost on me that it was economic issues that decimated Fianna Fáil in 2011 yet just 5 years later they are back on the rise, clearly short-term really does mean short-term!

Personally, I’d rather be someone who will stand by what I believe whether its ‘in or out’ and hope that somewhere along the line the majority of the electorate will choose to reject both Tweedledum, Tweedledee and their little half pal tweedleio based on a bigger picture than fancy rhetoric and campaign slogans.

And instead choose to judge on actions over words.

Anne Marie McNally is a founding member of the Social Democrats. Follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally

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60 thoughts on “Years Of Promise

  1. Jimmee

    The electorate rejected the Social Democrats. Blaming the electorate further for their preference for “tweedledums and tweedledees” isn’t doing you or your party any favours.

    1. Nigel

      Yeah! You’re supposed to pander to the electorate till your self-respect withers and dies not point out that they bear the ultimate responsibility for the quality of our political class!

  2. Joe Small

    Its probably only a matter of time before the Social Democrats and their voters go back to the Labour Party, particularly given their complete lack of a breakthrough at the last election.

  3. fluffybiscuits

    The Social Democrats are the left versions of the PD’s.

    On the point about the FG’ers. Both FF and FG are the same side of the coin. As I said before voting them in is like deciding if I want to chop my head off or put a bullet in my brain,both are electoral suicide.

  4. Jake38

    The Irish electorate are essentially peasants. It takes a long time to recover from 800 years of colonialism.

    1. Joe Small

      Bit patronising. I don’t think they are any better or worse than any other electorate really.

        1. Tom

          Who didn’t give women universal suffrage until 1991? And even then they were forced by supreme court decision, not by their wonderful direct democracy system.

  5. Clampers Outside!

    Fianna Fail give the money, tax away and we love them.
    Then there’s none left and we hate them.
    We vote half heartedly for someone else in anger and put in FG or FG/L to fix them.
    Then they tax us to get the coffers back, and we then hate them.


    1. DubLoony

      Labour – the nations mop. Taken out to clean up FF mess then quickly shoved back out of sight.

      1. ahjayzis

        One of those ‘left’ parties that think the only way to clean up the right’s mess is to become a right-wing party.

        They’re put back out of sight because nobody voted Labour to attack to single mothers, the young unemployed, students and the homeless. Those people vote Fine Gael.

        1. Harry Molloy

          The party that learned the hard way that sometimes, in office at least, tough and unpopular calls need to be made.

          1. ahjayzis

            Like taking the Comission on demanding Apple pay no back taxes.

            Like preserving our bargain basement corporate tax.

            Like encouraging anyone under 25 to leave the country as they were no longer classed as full citizens under welfare rules.

            Such bravery. Such selflessness to sacrifice the young and the poor to save themselves and their peers.

          2. Kieran NYC

            “Like taking the Comission on demanding Apple pay no back taxes.

            Like preserving our bargain basement corporate tax.”

            FG Ministers had responsibility for these. I don’t know why you expect Labour to be government messiahs as the smaller party in a coalition government.

  6. rotide

    I don’t remember Labour ‘sweeping to power’ in 92. I remember them getting a huge vote and being the junior partner in a coalition.

    Also, while the see-saw nature of voting that you’re talking about is evident to anyone who’s lived through 3 general elections, you are giving them an easy pass by comparing what’s happened recently and the rest of history.

    They decimated the state to such an extent that their failings directly contributed to nearly all of the last governments troubles and then the slack jawed idiots voted for them en masse again.

  7. DubLoony

    Where to start…!
    “In 1992 when Labour swept to power” FF won 68 seats, Labour 33 seats in a minority government that lasted 2 years. It was followed by the successful rainbow government of FG-Lab-DL. And were promptly booted out as FF were promising sun moon & stars and we’re suckers for not wanting to pay anything.

    In 2011 election, the country was in economic and political freefall. Remember Cowan Anne Marie? IMF, Troika & losing economic sovereignty? Remember the revenue collapse to €28bn when it costs €40bn to run the country and the difference had to be borrowed but market rates were 14%, bank bailouts, unemployment hitting 15% and return of mass emigration?

    And now? Troika are gone. Annual €3bn Anglo promissory notes, gone. Unemployment down from 15% to 7.8%, Bond rates from 14% to 0.4%, Revenue up from €28bn to €45bn last year.
    We’re still damaged by the recession and obviously huge chunk of population still having significant jobs, income & housing problems.
    But we have everything we need now to tackle those problems. And we will. I’m a lot more optimistic about our prospects now than I have been for a long time.

    1. ahjayzis

      “Annual €3bn Anglo promissory notes, gone. ”

      That’s such a distortion it’s almost a bald-faced lie.

      Thank you Labour for five regressive budgets, decimated welfare rates, spiralling homelessness, the worst housing crisis in our history, and most of all, thanks for shielding the rich so comprehensively.

      Your party followed Tory economic prescriptions to the letter, and then ran a pathetic, snivelling joint election campaign with FG on Lynton Crosby’s ugly playbook. Why not just vote Fine Gael?

      1. Vote Rep #1

        As always, the minority party gets all the blame.

        Not being big enough to put through their main policies but being big enough to temper the worst of the main party is not good enough.

        Its all or nothing with the electorate.

        1. ahjayzis

          What do you mean by blame?

          Fine Gael did what they said on the tin, broadly in line with how they campaign and how they portray themselves to the electorate – a centre right, pro-business, small-state party.

          Labour did the opposite.

      2. Jake38

        “decimated welfare rates”. . Data please. Can you show where welfare rates were reduced by one tenth?

        1. ahjayzis

          Off the top of my head;

          Jobseekers for under 25’s cut by just under 50%

          Family Payment cut by 100% when child reaches seven.

          1. DubLoony

            When one parent family payment ends at child’s age 7, then the transition from One-Parent Family Payment starts.

            The aim is to assist parents back into employment, recognizing that there are additional childcare needs as well.
            In employment, FIS payments are also available if job is part time and below certain income levels.

            Do you believe that single parents should stay in welfare traps for their entire life?

          2. Fact Checker

            The under-25s jobseekers allowance reduction was introduced in 2010, before Fine Gael took office.

          3. Fact Checker

            Also, when someone goes off the one-parent family payment scheme they go on jobSEEKers allowance but they don’t actually have to be SEEKing a job until youngest child reaches 14.

            See below, from April 2014:

            “Last June the Department introduced the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) transitional
            arrangement, which caters for OFP recipients who lose their entitlement to the OFP payment, who have a youngest child aged under 14 years, and who are entitled to the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) payment. These persons are now exempt from the JA conditions that require them to be available for, and genuinely seeking, full-time work. The exemptions from the full JA conditionality will remain in place until a recipient’s youngest child reaches the age of 14 years. At this point, should they continue to claim the JA payment, they will be subjected to the full JA conditionality.”

          4. DubLoony

            For jobseekers allowance cut u25, while I personally disagree, there is a rationale behind it. In the 1980s, people who went on welfare at young age found it very difficult to obtain jobs in their late 20s when the economy picked up. But it was found that it also affected the rest of their lives, they never caught up.

            So now, if you are young and unemployed you either get skills in trades, apprenticeships (now 60 of them), education (huge range) and work experience.
            The economy is picking up, we need people to be ready to take up opportunities as soon as possible and not have people’s lives wasted on social welfare at a young age.

          5. Fact Checker

            I have mixed feelings on the under-25s reduction.

            On the one hand the reservation wage of under 25s is low because they generally lack skills and experience. So you need to calibrate the level of benefits to the likely wage of the person in employment.

            On the other hand there is a cohort of tens of thousands of poorly-educated young men living at home for whom there is little paid employment even with the economy on the mend. This is due to lots of things such as their lack of skills, personal characteristics, a shrunken manufacturing and construction sector, more automation, increased regulation in the workplace, etc. €100 a week is not much to live on in Ireland if you have little prospect of ever getting off it.

  8. Fact Checker

    You write: “which had cut to the bone in ways few thought imaginable based on the promises and hyperbole from both parties during the 2011 campaign.” Where is the evidence of ‘cutting to the bone’?

    I will focus on primary, current expenditure. This is all government spending which is not capital and not interest expenditure.

    Here are the numbers for each year in billions of euros:

    2011: 60.8
    2012: 60.9
    2013: 60.0
    2014: 60.2
    2015: 61.2
    2016: 62.5

    As you can see there was a 1.3% reduction between 2011 and 2013 which was fully recovered by 2015 and will be exceeded this year.

    1. Jake38

      Yet again, Fact Checker, you are bringing data to bear on the right-on, trendy, quasi-Trot BS narrative.

      Shame on you!

      1. Fact Checker

        Thank you. I am not particularly interested in ideological positions. I have mine of course as do we all but there is enough of it around here already.

        It is much easier to speak to numbers because they are simpler to agree on. The problem is that most journalists have neither interest in nor facility with numbers and these shibboleths rarely go unchallenged. Dan O’Brien in the Indo is an honourable exception.

        1. Caroline

          Oh look at that, there were essentially no cuts at all.

          That really is much easier. Thanks, numbers!

          1. Fact Checker

            There were.

            It’s just that they largely took place before the period specified by the author.

          2. Caroline

            ‘Cut to the bone’ may be irritating hyperbole but quoting headline spending totals is equally meaningless.

          3. Fact Checker

            Of course, it is a simplification to make a point. I look forward to your superior conceptual approach.

            The reduction in the deficit under the FG-Labour government was not achieved by cutting spending. It was two other things:
            -MASSIVE fall in national debt interest costs (which barely anyone is aware of)
            -Substantial increases in REVENUES, namely introduction of LPT and water charges, increase in VAT from 21% to 23%. Also helped by a growing economy and the USC which was brought in by the outgoing FF-FG government in 2011.

        2. MoyestWithExcitement

          “I am not particularly interested in ideological positions.”

          That simply isn’t true. You regularly take right wing positions and your posts tend to be laden with personal anecdotes and conjecture. Your choice of username suggests a deliberate attempt to present your personal opinions as objective fact which, of course, is highly dishonest and calls into question your motives.

          1. Caroline

            Ah come on, don’t spoil it, there’s a need for this guy. There’s always one lad calling himself TruthTeller or The Praetorian, the ur-rationalist cutting through the silly emotionality and off the cuff bloopers of other posters with that mad cool logic and the numbery numbers. He’s the hero BS deserves.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            You’re right. Every grouping of people needs someone to provide a bit of schadenfreude.

  9. moould

    I see the traditional Labour hatred of the electorate has spread to the SDs. You guys simply can’t get over the fact that people like Fianna Fáil.

    1. DubLoony

      Labour don’t hate the electorate. Electorate peed off with Labour over the recessions / austerity dragging on for too long.

      1. ahjayzis

        Ohhhh, so nothing Labour actually did or their attitude in doing it or any promises they broke or their seamless transition into a grovelling appendage to FG?

        Just bad timing!

    2. ahjayzis

      ^This right here is our political immaturity writ large.

      A party disagreeing with the majority view isn’t hate – it’s a political belief and ideology. Vote for it or don’t, don’t get your knickers in a twist that there’s political choice out there. You can still vote for your funeral-crashing, tae-supping, expenses fiddling fat old Fianna Fail redneck.

      When a party’s views are decided solely on opinion polls, carte blanche, that’s rank populism and it’s what gave us the bubble and shot our economy and our society to hell. But never mind all that sher he fixshed de rooooad.

      1. moould

        ah that wonderful ideology of Labour again – that ideology of austerity, broken promises and utter failure

        if there had been even a smidgin of ideology to Labour they would have never gone into government in 2011

        but no, Gilmore, Rabbitte, Burton and Howlin had to have their Mercs before they retired. ideology me eye

        1. DubLoony

          2011 election results: FG 76, Lab 37, FF 20, SF 14,Socialists 2, PBP 2

          Like it or not, people in this country didn’t vote for a left coalition.
          The decision to go into government was openly debated, strong views on either side. Gilmore warned that what needed to be done to save the country would be done through a sea of protests. they all knew how tough it was going to be. Option was to have FG only govt.

          If Gilmore wanted the easy life, why did he take up role as EU envoy for Columbia peace process and successfully brought about a peace agreement there?

          The cynicism that has taken hold in public life has blinded people to facts, reason and basic dialogue.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Then Joan became leader and implied that poor people protesting a new tax are dishonest and/or entitled because a lot of them have smartphones belying the utter contempt the party had for the working man.

  10. nellyb

    “Political academia is divided on this topic but increasingly the theory is that long-term performance is less important than short-term factors and specifically economic issues.”
    While political academia is sitting on the fence and pointing finger at more important short-term factors and ‘economic issues”, the economists are saying
    “Some analysis of the global economic downturn points to short-termism of financial institutions and lenders as a root cause. Example
    Such short-term strategies are often based on accounting-driven metrics and profit maximisation that fail to fully reflect not only the complexities of corporate management and investment, but also the significant opportunities and risks associated with these strategies.
    The most prevalent accounting-driven metric is the earnings per share (EPS). Research by scholars John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Shivaram Rajgopal has shown that managers are making real decisions – such as decreasing spending on research and development, maintenance and hiring of critical employees – in order to hit quarterly earnings targets they have provided as part of their own guidance.”

    Is that what our political academia is subscribing to? When will we start churning out independent thinkers?




  12. Kieran NYC

    So now that the Dail functions in such a way that any party can put bills before it to be voted upon and get them passed if they get enough support from other parties (even if the government votes against it)…

    Can we have a list, please, of the bills the SDs have brought before the Dail or are planning to?

    I’m waiting for the rubber to hit the road.

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