Fine Gael came to power in 2011, capitalising on the greatest economic collapse this country had ever experienced. Their manifesto promised a new type of politics, a radical new departure, and an end to the corruption, cronyism and collusion that had defined the tenure of their predecessors.
Looking back over the past three years, they claim to have succeeded in their objectives. The economy is on the path to recovery, unemployment is falling, tourism is booming and consumer confidence is returning.
But in actuality nothing has changed. They have missed the opportunity that the economic collapse represented to deliver genuine reform.
The Public sector has emerged largely intact from the recession. Their bloated pay and conditions remain sacrosanct. Increments are rapidly reversing any temporary, half-hearted cuts that were made. Nothing has been done to address the enormous liability that their defined benefit pensions represent and the gap between the public and private sectors continues to widen.
Even Fás are back in town, rebranded as Solas, and continuing to waste public money on overpaid execs, they are currently recruiting for a Spin Doctor and are offering a package well in excess of €100,000.
One of the central pillars of Fine Gael’s election campaign was the abolition of the multifarious Quangos that were costing the tax payer untold millions, with nothing to show for it.
Today it’s clear that not a finger has been lifted to address the Quangos. There have been a handful of mergers, however all personnel remain employed on generous public sector contracts. As reported in the Business Post last Sunday, Quangos are flourishing under Fine Gael. For example, we now have The Food Safety Authority and Safefood both in receipt of significant state funding and both tasked with doing exactly the same thing.
And as for cronyism – Enda’s farcical appointment of his pal John McNulty (a failed local election candidate) to the Seanad and Pat Rabbitte’s parachuting of two supporters onto state boards as he left office, send a pretty clear signal.
The government is pointing to the resurgence of the Property Market as a barometer for economic recovery, however as much as in 2007 what they have delivered is a dysfunctional property market that has been manipulated by vested interests and government policy to the detriment of young first time buyers, who are being told they may never achieve the “dream” of owning a 3 bed semi in the suburbs… Yet NAMA has ensured that big developers are now back in business. All the villains who wilfully destroyed this country had to do was take a couple of years off, go on a bankruptcy holiday, come back and start afresh.
Our Health service remains in crisis. Overcrowding and waiting lists are as severe as ever, while the HSE still suffers from a shortage of doctors and a superfluity of clerical staff, middle managers and administrators. Nothing has been done to reform this behemoth under James Reilly and nothing will continue to be done under his successor Leo Varadkar.
And all the while the squeezed middle have borne the brunt of austerity, while certain privileged and protected classes were insulated from it, and they will continue to do so in the form of onerous taxes and stealth charges – waste, water, property, USC, pension levy and more – for decades to come; struggling in jobs they won’t retire from until into their seventies and living in houses they can’t afford to own.
So the new departure Fine Gael promised hasn’t really delivered for most of the coping classes. The only departure they are really offering many people is the opportunity to leave.