Having ridden to power on the back of Fianna Fail’s unpopularity, the new Irish government is promising more of the same. Buried away as a throwaway line at page 16 of the 64 page coalition agreement it says:
We believe it is appropriate, in order to enhance international credibility, to stick to the aggregate adjustment as set out in the National Recovery Plan for the combined period 2011-2012.”
As Brendan Keenan observes in the Irish Independent:
Brief though it is, that is a very different message from the happy tone of the rest of the document. It is worth recalling that the ‘aggregate adjustment’ agreed with the EU/IMF calls for an extra €4bn of tax revenues next year and a €2bn fall in the cash value of current government spending.”
The coalition also promises to cut 25,000 public sector jobs. And with some justice the defeated Fianna Fail party points out that the actual policies of the coalition are little different from their own, which were resoundingly rejected by the electorate
Fianna Fail, now on the opposition benches with just 20 TDs, last night claimed the new coalition partners had already distanced themselves from their “electoral populism” and “false promises”.
Fianna Fail backbencher Niall Collins claimed the new Government had “fudged” on the commitment to cut €9bn between now and 2014 and was preparing to implement a range of “hidden taxes” in the areas of property and water.
“And claims they can take out up to 25,000 from the public sector by way of voluntary redundancies without affecting frontline services is nonsense,” he said.
“They are just fooling themselves.”
The plan agreed between the former Fianna Fail government and the EU/IMF called for both increasing taxes; and also cut backs in public spending. The plan says government spending should be €48bn by 2014 — more than €6bn less than in 2010. Fine Gael’s manifesto said it should shrink even more.
The knock on economic impact of this scale of spending reduction is not assessed, and indeed the economic cost of laying off 25000 state jobs is uncosted in the coalition agreement. They seem oblivious to the argument that decreasing economic activity reduces government income, and can thus widen the gap between state income and expenditure.
The Irish Independent reports Sinn Fein Dail leader Gerry Adams describing the Fine Gael-Labour programme as broad commitment to implement Fianna Fail’s four-year plan.
‘Undoubtedly many of those who voted for Labour, in particular, on the promise of change will be bitterly disappointed today,’ Mr Adams claimed.
The new Programme for Government is ‘bad news’ for low- and middle-income families, the low paid, those on welfare and public sector workers.
‘The continuation of an austerity approach means further depressing the economy and gives very little hope that jobs will be created,’ Mr Adams said.
‘We will scrutinise every move made by this coalition and make sure it is held to account — we will stand up for ordinary people.’”
Left TDs, Joe Higgins, Richard Boyd Barrett and Seamus Healy have accused Labour of signing up for “wholesale attacks” on working people.
Indeed it does seem peculiar, that the Labour Party has decided to enter the government, rather than lead the opposition; reinforcing a pattern of Irish exceptionalism where the lines between left and right are blurred. Given that the largest non-government party, Fianna Fail, actually agrees with the main thrust of government policy, then the task of holding the government to account will mainly fall to Sinn Fein.