Wednesday 16 January 2019

Why Gilmore needs to live up to his Mr Angry reputation right now

We don't want Fianna Fail lite, do we? If we're to believe the evidence of one opinion poll published at the weekend, that may be what we're about to get. A Fine Gael majority government -- it seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago, but if present trends continue you just never know.

The trouble is that you can search the manifesto Fine Gael published a few days ago from top to bottom, and you won't find any difference between it and the documents published by Fianna Fail. It's the Fianna Fail plan in a freshly ironed and starched blue shirt.

What's the point? We know how Fianna Fail responded to the bursting of the bubble they created. They didn't ask people who had invested recklessly in our banks to share the pain. To bail out the banks they screwed lone parents, blind people, disabled people, children. We've forgotten that the cuts we've seen in the last two budgets were the worst -- the most cruel -- in our history. And Fine Gael are already signed up to every one of them, and more.

Take their target of 30,000 public sector redundancies. Superficially, it sounds great. We all like to believe the public service is bloated and inefficient.

But when the fire brigade is understaffed, when your child needs a special needs assistant, when your kids' school is cutting back on subject choices -- what then?


When Fine Gael have pared back every essential service to carry on paying for failed banking policies through the next generation, I wonder will we be able to discern any difference between them and the crowd we've just got rid of?

In a way, that's the challenge facing Eamon Gilmore and the Labour Party between now and Friday week. Poll after poll has described Gilmore as the most trusted politician in the country, and he now has to translate that trust into the kind of seat numbers that will guarantee us a balanced government.

As the Green Party can testify from the wreckage of its own political fortunes, you can't succeed in government if you don't have strength. Sure, you can stop the odd thing from happening, but you need to have numbers if you want to effect real change.

Fine Gael keep repeating that you can't tax your way out of a recession. But we also know that if you try to cut your way out of a recession, you condemn communities to long-term unemployment and generations of poverty traps. We have to do a bit of both -- but we have to leave room for growth too. As Minister for Finance, Ruairi Quinn recognised that responsible and balanced growth was the way out of recession, and his policies were extraordinarily successful at achieving that.

Over the last couple of years, Gilmore has shown the same capacity in opposition to think his way through the problems and challenges we face. Starting tonight, in the five-way leaders debate on The Frontline, he has another chance to show us that ability. On Vincent Browne's debate last week he showed tucks of ability -- but he also let Micheal Martin away with some of the greatest nonsense I've ever heard. Tonight, he'll be up against the glib Martin again, but this time we'll be watching Enda too, to see if he can get his sums right. Or if Fine Gael is about four more years of the disastrous policies of the past.

Over the years, I've seen a passionate and sometimes angry Gilmore articulate the fears and anxieties of ordinary people. I've seen him confront and rattle Fianna Fail in the Dail and elsewhere -- frequently when Enda was unable or unwilling to take them on. I know the media have a tendency to use the 'Mr Angry' tag to try to caricature Eamon, and maybe he's a bit uncomfortable with that label.

But if I could say one thing to him, I'd tell him there's still a lot be angry about. People are really fearful of the future, and betrayed by the past. No need to be too reasonable for the next 10 days or so, Eamon. Sure, we need solutions. But we want you to reflect the real anger the rest of us feel as well.

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