Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “government”

Irish Politics, It’s like booking a holiday…

Ah yes, its summer. That time of year when we all start to head off on a holiday somewhere nice and sunny. Ireland is a country that’s badly in need of a holiday but if our political parties are the tour operators then that is where we start to have a problem.

You see we used to go on holiday with one tour operator for many years. This operator, Fianna Fail, gave us some very good holidays. They also gave us some bad experiences but in the main we were feeling ok, especially in recent times when we went to some lovely destinations. They normally partnered with a smaller local operator for tours and they often had to change these and told us that any problems were down to them. These smaller local operators (PDs and Greens) did not fill us with confidence but we went along with them as part of the package.

It was all fine until a few holidays ago. We wanted a real break and felt we deserved it. We decided to treat ourselves and go to Barbados. It wasn’t cheap but Fianna Fail told us it was well within our reach so what the hell? We work hard, now it was time to relax and enjoy it. The problem was when we got off the plane we were not in Barbados we were in….Bratislava. We quickly mentioned that there must be a mistake, but to our surprise, instead of sorting it out and finding us another flight out, the tour reps smiled and shrugged saying ‘We are where we are, you might as well try to enjoy it’. Well, we now felt like right tools walking around in our floral shirts and Bermuda shorts in Bratislava. There wasn’t even a pool. When we asked the local operator, the Greens, if there was anything for us to do or see here, they looked at us blankly and said ‘We never intended to end up here either’. It was the most miserable holiday of our lives and we swore never, ever again. Fianna Fail had broken our trust and no matter what went before, this was a disaster too far. On the flight home, FF ditched the guys who sold us the holiday and put up an ‘under new management’ sign, but it was too little too late. We marched into them and told them we were taking our business away for good. That felt great at the time, but it’s almost a little scary that as we plan this year’s holiday we are starting to feel like we may have no option but to go back to them. Why? Oh well that’s because of last years holiday.

You see we decided to get away from FF and went to another company we had holidayed with the odd time FG/Labour. Now we had some bad experiences with them 30 years ago but it was all changed now, they had proven themselves fairly solid. We also remembered the some good holidays we had spent in their company. At least they never had the utter disaster we experienced with the whole Bratislava business. FG/Labour were very eager for our business. That felt good too. They had special health insurance, a 5 point plan for a good holiday, handy checklists, and they told us we could start paying into a holiday fund month by month and then choose our destination when the time came. It was perfect. If we saved hard we could be on our way to Barbados soon. Finally after much saving in the holiday fund, they sent out the brochure with this years options. It was a rather flimsy affair. We had saved all our money with them and now they tell us there is only one destination this year…..Bratislava. We were very angry. We went into the office and demanded an explanation as to why they had told us so much was possible. They just smiled broadly and said ‘Oh but it is, its all still possible…just not yet….new destinations will be coming on stream in the next 5 to 10 years just stick with us’. We tried pointing out that they didn’t tell us this at the time but it was no use. We ask if at least the new health insurance is on offer……they smile ‘Oh it will be..it will be…eventually’. We point out that everything in the Bratislava holiday is exactly what FF had given us the last time but the soothe us as they walk us dejectedly out of the office by saying ‘Ah but yes, the difference is this time you are not travelling with FF, the last time you thought you were going to Barbados, at least this time we told you before you got on the plane? Isn’t that so much better?’

Perhaps we were being harsh. Maybe Bratislava would be fun. But it wasn’t, it was the same old thing as the year before and we felt even more cheated. We went to the local operator, Labour, to see if they had at least got some exciting day trips, only they told us no, apparently FG had not accounted for any of their things in the price and that they were not allowed bring us anywhere, it was a matter to take up with FG. Bloody marvellous. The only difference this year was we had a jumper on and that was about as much comfort as we could take. We began to idly wonder if FF had learned a lesson, but we seriously doubted it.

So where to next? Well there’s a few people endlessly talking about setting up a new tour operator but they just don’t seem to be able to organise themselves. There is another sizeable company Sinn Fein. The problem with these guys is that they do the extreme holidays. They are the company we went with when we finished the Leaving Cert or after first year exams in college. They are great for the under 25s. They do all the radical stuff. The problem is we don’t really want that kind of holiday anymore. Sure it was all great fun at the time but now we like something a bit more relaxed and stable. We didn’t care at 18 but now we have bills and responsibilities and we were never quite convinced that the Insurance policy SF offered, should something go wrong, was really adequate. There were stories from years ago about people that never came back but at least they appeared to have sorted all that out now. Still though, we are a bit long in the tooth to going extreme snowboarding in Tibet. Now maybe if SF partnered with FG or FF and we got a more normal destinations and a bit more relaxing but with better service then we might consider it. However SF told us they don’t do partnerships so it’s off the agenda for now.

We had friends who went with some independent operators. These were fairly ok but the problem is it’s a lot of work. Its like booking from Dublin to London with one operator, then he gives you a number of a fella to ring when you get there and he can get you from London to Paris, then he has a number for a guy that might put you up for a few nights before another guy can get you a connecting flight to somewhere else. Its all a bit disorganised and you don’t really get looked after the way we want. It’s a bit like backpacking around the world on your own steam. Its grand and you manage it and end up with great stories to tell, but in reality at this stage of life we don’t have time for that craic and have long thrown out our rucksacks.

So maybe we should forget holidays and just stay at home until the operators sort themselves out. Maybe we should return to FF crossing our fingers that they have learned and are not going to laugh heartily as the drop us in outer Mongolia, maybe we should stick with the guys we have now, FG/Lab, see if they come good on their word eventually? Even if they are about as much excitement as a sleepover at Danas house. Or maybe we cud risk the SF or Independent route and relive our youth? Ah who are we kidding? They all have the same governing body, the troika, and their idea of a holiday for us is a two night midweek in Tubbercurry.

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Government plays same games as predecessors and has lost trust

Many people will remember the politics of the 1980’s. It was a turbulent time and one of the key issues was that of trust. Charles Haughey led the largest party but there was always a question mark over whether people could trust him or not. There was a theory that Haughey was the problem, he was what Garret Fitzgerald described as a ‘flawed pedigree’ and what Dick Spring viewed as a ‘cancer’ on the body politic.

The problem was much deeper than just Haughey though. The reason his party remained so strong was that his opponents were not trusted either. Whether that was economic trust to handle the issues or whether it was the fact that once in government people saw no real difference is a matter for debate. Des O’Malley was expelled from Fianna Fail and went on to set up the Progressive Democrats. The mood suggested the time was right for a new party. Of course like many such endeavours it had profile but no roots or organisation so its expansion, after the first wave of enthusiasm, was stunted.

Charles Haughey departed the scene and Albert Reynolds took over, but he, Alan Dukes, John Bruton and Des O’Malley all failed to capture the public imagination and all failed to win the trust of the people for different reasons.

Then came the era of Ahern, Bruton, Harney and Spring. There was a feeling that perhaps Ireland had moved on and we could trust people at the helm again. One can only wonder now if that is just symptomatic of a country when it starts to get more prosperous rather than one in recession.

Ireland has a problem. We desperately need leadership but we are struggling to trust anyone enough to follow them. We are not a belligerent people. Ireland has demonstrated a desire to be led, a willingness to take pain and tough economic measures if we can just be assured that people know what they are doing. So why is it so difficult to find that true leader?

People were burned badly by Bertie Ahern. He was a nice guy, a very ordinary unassuming chap. He was also a highly skilled politician, acknowledged by friend and foe. He did not seem into money or trappings of power, he just seemed to love what he did. In recent years that shroud of comfort has been torn away from us. A man we trusted turned out to have the most inexplicable personal finances possible and worse was to come. While we trusted him to have the measure of everyone, it seems he was really just gambling on what the guys at the top of the banks told him.

Brian Cowen was a man people felt was trustworthy too. A man who at least seemed to have none of the weight of dodgy personal finances or political funding hanging over him. He was strong and determined. Yet we then found out that he too was just going with what the bankers said, and he displayed an alarming lack of anger at where they led him. Then he crumpled up in the job of Taoiseach and lost all the vigour and ability to speak that people had liked him for.

It’s hard to keep trusting. Yet, in 2011 we gave our trust to a new government. It was seen as a final acceptance that FF and the PDs and all that was said about them was true. The Greens were collateral damage for having been seen as naive. The new government was given the greatest mandate of public trust that any government has ever held. Two years later and they would not be re-elected in the morning according to Opinion polls. This no doubt will be blamed on the ‘hard decisions’. No doubt that plays a part but the real issue is that hard decisions have double the impact when accompanied by a lack of leadership. A tax on your home is due by tomorrow, yet again people have shown they are willing to pay, but nothing in the approach of Phil Hogan has suggested to the people that they should trust him. Nothing in the approach of James Reilly has suggested that people should trust him in health and nothing in the approach of Alan Shatter will convince people that he is to be trusted either.

These were Enda Kenny’s closest aides when he was faced with a leadership challenge. Yet these are the ones letting the government down the most. There is nothing in the approach of this government to suggest that it treats issues of trust any differently to its predecessors. The same old rules are at play. The opposition do not cover themselves in glory either with FF stumbling around on the Abortion issue due to an outdated view of leadership and SF still determined to say everyone else is wrong on absolutely everything. Previous governments eroded public confidence in the system, they appeared arrogant, dismissive and concerned only with survival. Previous governments seemed obsessed with keeping their job and their colleagues in a job rather than facing up to the rights and wrongs of an issue. That is a major reason that previous governments were led to electoral Armageddon. This government had a chance to observe and learn and react differently. So what answer did they give us? Pat Rabbitte.

The government has proven itself less about leadership and more about playing the game. Less about considering the issues and more about bragging rights and forms of words. It is every bit as much about retaining power as its predecessor and in the public eye it seems remarkably similar to its predecessor in being peopled by Ministers that have no intention of having to return to their job after the next election and instead are already focussed on what legacy they might like to include in their memoirs. Trust is key. Whoever can win public trust will win big, but that will not be achieved by standing over the same old point scoring and the same lack of honesty that we have always seen. This week the government will tell us the debate on Alan Shatter is a distraction, which has always been a great defence. Like a sword of Damocles over the people, warning them that if they keep asking questions they will suffer more because the work they need done wont be done. It seems Ministers are incapable of answering questions and doing their job at the same time, they have a very limited ability and attention span. They are easily distracted and upset and we are to blame. Maybe gender quotas will be the best thing to ever happen politics here, because god knows, we really seem to lack the ability to multi task.

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