Republican News · Thursday 2 May 2002

[An Phoblacht]

Dumb and dumber

Manifesto fiascos show up stroke politics

If the sparks and point scoring between Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and Labour wasn't happening during an election campaign that will choose a government for the next five years, the last week would have been good fun.

It isn't though; the manifesto launches from the establishment parties have been a shambles, filled with stroke politics and a complete detachment from the real issues.

The high water mark of this electoral sham was the proposal this week for so-called "independent economists" to be appointed to decide which party's manifestos were the best costed. The next step will be to appoint Popstars judges to see who used the best campaign song or independent monitors on who got the best pieing. ROBBIE MacGABHANN reads through the manifesto mayhem

Fianna Fáil - it wasn't us!

At one level Fianna Fail's manifesto was an interesting read, full of new ideas and proposals. Great, except this is a manifesto of a conservative opposition party, not one that has been in government for 13 of the last 16 years. I wonder if Shaggy's 'It wasn't me' is the theme song on the Fianna Fáil battle bus?

There will be lots of new things under Fianna Fáil, including a new National Development Finance Agency, a new Department of Transport, a new office of Environment Enforcement.

other favourite in the Fianna Fáil canon is the promise of world class this and that. Last December, Bertie promised us a world-class health service and now we are to get a "world class national stadium".

Under the "A lot done, more to do" title comes 94 pages of promises and analysis. But what of the new agencies?

It is hard not to see the National Development Finance Agency as privatisation by the back door, with asset after asset being sold off while the private sector is allowed cherry pick the most lucrative infrastructure projects under the guise of public private partnerships.

The new transport department is something that could have been introduced at any time over the past decade, particularly as traffic chaos grips our cities and towns.

The manifesto tells us that there will continue to be major investment in roads and rail. It does not explain that much of this is because of the years of neglect of our railroads presided over by Fianna Fáil. It talks of an integrated transport plan and of the need to ensure we have a national airline, but nowhere does the manifesto face up to the reality that publicly funded bus and rail transport is the real priority.

No, Fianna Fáil promises to be all things to all people. So get ready for another five years of piecemeal gestures, with no real change. It could be a lot worse.

Fine Gael's ladybird life

"Towards a Better Quality of Life" is the title of the Fine Gael manifesto. So how do we get this? Well, surprise surprise, it will come first through more tax cuts. While the promise to take the low paid out of the tax net is welcome, there are other proposals for a new 30% tax band, tax relief for childcare and compensation for Eircom shareholders.

This is classic Fine Gael under John Bruton, crowd pleasing measures interlinked with an inconsistency that is just plain scary. The manifesto is full of promises to increase spending and direct funding into important areas such literacy, remedial education and halving the six-year wait for school improvements.

Great, but they also propose expanded CCTV networks on our streets to supposedly prevent crime as well as night courts. Fine Gael want competition in Dublin's bus services and a national profit sharing scheme when the government runs budget surpluses.

The fundamental problem with the Fine Gael proposals is not just how would we pay for them, and with their ladybird economic skills that is a frightening prospect, it is also that they claim to have a vision of "a compassionate Ireland, fair and even-handed to all. - An Ireland built on a sense of community - not one that has room only for individual selfishness".

Again great, but there is no admission in this manifesto of how we managed to create such an unequal Ireland in the first place. Duh!

For example, Fine Gael wants to end the two-tier hospital system, but only in public hospitals, while the private hospitals that have sucked resources out of the public purse would go on unchecked. This is just one case of the core Fine Gael failing - they think you can spend your way out of inequality without actually addressing its root causes.

Progressive Democrats fire sale

Not even interested in inequality are the Progressive Democrats, with their Dunnes Stores-like promise of "value for your vote". Harney's PDs are basically offering a post 11 September fire sale on the state's assets, infrastructure, whatever. Just make an offer to the nice lady in the helicopter.

With the cash raised through the sale, the top rate of income tax will be cut. Also on the chopping board is Bertie's "world class" national stadium. Struggling Progressive Democrat candidate Michael McDowell derided the stadium project this week, describing it as a "Ceausescu-era Olympic project". McDowell also compared Fianna Fáil with Mussolini's fascists.

Interestingly, this is a manifesto of a party in government with no apologies for the past and promising more of the same for the future. You have to admire the 'we really could give a f...' attitude. Watch out for the wreck on the highway.

Labour's lip service

The promises of two extra bank holidays a year is the most distracting element of the Labour Party manifesto. However, there must be a recognition that many of their pledges, such as a guaranteeing a right to housing and establishing a national housing agency, have an echo with Sinn Féin's proposals.

But despite the claim to have, like Sinn Féin, an ideology based on rights, there is little recognition of the failures of the past and present.

Take, for example, their proposals on healthcare; while seeming worthwhile, they will actually reinforce the two-tier system. Money could still buy you quicker and better healthcare under the Labour pledges.

Labour spokesperson Liz MacManus said last week that "if anyone wants to get the deep pile carpet, that option will still be there, but you wont be able to buy access". This is a nonsense, unless you rid our hospital system of a profiteering private sector it will still be the apartheid health system that Labour claim to want to be rid of.

Some good ideas, but as usual no recognition of the need for real deep-rooted reform. A good strategy to get the Mercs and perks back. Are we really that gullible?

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