Financing a lofty set of aspirations?

April 26th, 2020 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

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FIANNA Fáil and Fine Gael have certainly put together quite a set of lofty aspirations in their attempts to lure other parties or individuals to coalesce with them and form the next government. They have taken a pot pourri of ideas from other parties as bait and the only consolation that the likes of the Greens and Sinn Féin can take out of this is that imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery.

‘A draft document between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to facilitate negotiations with other parties on a plan to recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the Covid-19 emergency’ is its rather unwieldly title. The most important thing that it does acknowledge is that the recovery needs to be people-centred.

However, it lapses at times into pronouncements that could be construed as rhetoric, given that the ‘new politics’ promised when Fianna Fáil propped up the lame duck Fine Gael-led government of 2016 to 2020 just slowly went nowhere before being rejected by the electorate in this year’s general election.

Yet, here they go again, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both, declaring ‘We know that there is no going back to the old way of doing things. Radical actions have been taken to protect as many people as possible, and new ways of doing things have been found in a time of crisis.’

They say that their ‘overriding focus is to improve the wellbeing of people’ in the aftermath of the Covid-19 emergency. To do this, they will have to kick-start the economy, which will not be easy given that we have absolutely no idea how much the Covid-19 pandemic is going to cost us.

The country has budgeted for an initial 12-week lockdown scenario, but it could go on a lot longer and end up costing much much more. We need to know what baseline the recovery is starting from before it can be costed properly.

Huge money – €5bn to start with – is being thrown at funding the necessary healthcare response, social welfare payments, employment and business subsidies. Then there will be further stimuli needed to get businesses back on track once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted over time.

All of that comes before they get around to dealing with the health and housing crises, which will cost a phenomenal amount of money, along with climate change, education and quality of life plans. Acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says there won’t be any increase in income tax or USC, so it will be interesting to see how FF and FG plan to fund all their promises, which are highly-commendable but unrealistic if the government hasn’t got the wherewithal to pay for their implementation.

In wooing other parties, say for example the Greens, there will be inevitable further demands to be met that will also need to be paid for. Again, where is that money coming from, apart obviously from increased carbon taxes?

There are 10 missions for government set out in the document FF and FG have circulated and, having re-ignited and renewed the economy – easier said than done – Universal Healthcare is their next target. Many of the assets are currently in place in terms of beds, equipment and the all-important human resources, but how are we going to pay to keep them all long-term? Crucially though, there has never been a better opportunity to find a way.

Housing for All is another priority, but we need a good minister to drive this and plenty of investment in social housing especially. Other headings include A New Social Contract, A New Green Deal, A Better Quality of Life for All, Supporting Young Ireland, Opportunities through Education and Research, A Shared Ireland, and At the Heart of Europe: Supporting Global Citizenship.

All these heady and worthy notions, if implemented, would give us a country that others would seriously envy, but how realistic are they? With both our own and the rest of the world’s economies going into recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic, are the parties only fooling themselves – and us – thinking that the country is capable of financing such a fanciful wish-list?

Until they come up with some realistic costings, one cannot help but be sceptical about their ambitions’ hopes of being achieved.

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