Friday 18 October 2019

Pat Rabbitte: Voters don 't want Labour to remain as wallflowers

"Irish people riot at the ballot box." This summary, I think, belongs to Noel Whelan, the former Fianna Fail candidate turned psephologist.

Dublin is not Cairo and the Irish are not easily tempted on to the streets, but it was a case of "vingince, be jaysus!" at the ballot box.

Whatever the make-up of the new government, it will hope that the ballot box clearout has been cathartic.

The disintegration of the Fianna Fail/Green Party government was like a slow car crash as people watched in horror.

As some ministers clung to the wreckage and others headed for the hills with their swag bags stuffed with pensions, the effect on the citizens was demoralising.

As a result, the people want a solid government that behaves as if it has a plan. Any new government must have a credible Programme for National Recovery. If it can also inspire and instil some hope so much the better.

That may be asking too much given the scale of disillusionment with the practice of politics.

What is not an optional extra is the imperative of political and institutional reform.

Respect for politics will not be restored by what politicians say but rather by what they do. The leadership must start at the top.


That means cutting ministerial salaries again and pensions only at retirement age.

It means helicopter travel is for important business, not for opening off-licences. TDs' pay fixed at principal officer level is about right, and it should rise or fall with that grade.

The new government should immediately commit to a public inquiry by parliamentary committee into the banking crisis. Parliament itself should take back some of the powers eroded over the past 20 years. Government should end the obsessive secrecy that applies even to routine business.

Whistleblowers should be protected and lobbyists required to register and state their business.

The public do not believe that the great and the good in Ireland are accountable for their misdeeds, no matter how serious. If the law in this area is defective, why not change the law they ask? Why is it that nobody is ever held accountable for mistakes, or worse, in our hospitals, in FAS, in the Garda?

Why is the dysfunctional teacher left in the classroom?

Is it good enough that a minister who doesn't read his brief can plead no responsibility for the consequences of his negligence?

People know that the cupboard is bare. But a government that would pledge a return to ethical leadership would chalk up brownie points with the voters.


The restoration of confidence in politics will not be easily earned. It would be a misjudgment in the wake of this General Election for anyone to believe that, so long as 84 votes can be cobbled together in Leinster House, this will meet the people's demand for stable resolute government capable of withstanding the stormy times ahead. This is not special pleading that the Labour Party should be part of any new government.

Indeed, there are many Labour Party members -- and maybe some Labour Party TDs -- who would prefer that the party to lead the Opposition. However, the view of Labour voters is different.

They voted for Labour in order that the party would help shape the recovery. They don't expect miracles. But they do expect that the hard decisions will be fused with fairness and, hopefully, a little imagination.

Of course, it takes two to tango and the initiative rests with the partner who won most seats.

If that partner chooses to waltz with another, then that lets Labour off the hook. But Labour could not justify opting out either to itself or to its voters.

Labour's purpose is a fair society. That won't be achieved by choosing to remain a wallflower.

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