WITH all sorts of speculation going on about what parties will make up the next government that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has the unenviable task of forming, they will have to think long and hard about what they are going to offer the people and how quickly they will deliver the things the electorate wants, principally a wider and fairer distribution of the fruits of the economic recovery.
We asked the question here in last week’s editorial: ‘Have you felt the recovery?’ Obviously, given the huge drubbing Fine Gael, and the Labour Party in particular, took in last weekend’s general election, there are a lot of people – especially in rural Ireland – who have not felt the benefits and this was reflected in West Cork by the loss of a TD from each of these parties.
They paid the price for a bad error of judgement by their well-paid party strategists for not being close enough to – or, worse still, ignoring until it was too late – the reality that should have been obvious from early on, while knocking on people’s doors during the campaign, that the economic recovery had certainly not reached everybody. One lesson politicians in general have to learn is that they need to listen to the people rather than just talking at them in a monologue of perpetual spin.
All politics is local and, for candidates to get elected in the first place, they need to engage meaningfully with the electorate they want to represent and this should be on an ongoing basis. People in rural areas want to have their concerns voiced and needs addressed more vocally by their public representatives, especially as they have not benefited as much from the economic recovery as their urban counterparts.
There is a greater mix of representation in Cork South West as a result of the first – and hopefully the only – general election of 2016, following the extraordinary poll-topping performance of Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony to become the first ever female TD for the constituency, the election of vocal independent Michael Collins and the only outgoing TD to be returned, Jim Daly of Fine Gael. The gauntlet has been thrown down to them to deliver for West Cork and it has to be apparent to all by now that, if they don’t, they will meet an increasingly more unforgiving electorate the next time they put themselves forward for election.
One senses that people have lost patience with our politicians and, while most will acknowledge that the problems that have been allowed fester in public services cannot be solved overnight, they will want to see more urgency attached to tackling them.
The health sector, for example, needs a radical ten-year plan with realisable yearly targets on similar lines to the last government’s Action Plan for Jobs and, while this would span the lifetime of two or more governments, somebody needs to get it up and running within the first hundred days of the new administration.
Plans for social housing, which was disgracefully neglected by the last government, have been put in place, but the roll-out takes time and a minister with specific responsibility for this needs to be appointed to oversee and expedite these plans and make a case for more funding on an ongoing basis until the homelessness crisis has abated.
There is also a need for political reform. For example, the will of the people seeking reform of the Seanad, expressed during Enda Kenny’s failed referendum campaign to have the institution abolished, needs to be acted upon. Two and a half years have passed since he got this ‘wallop’ from the electorate and his failure to act decisively on this and other matters, as promised, has seen him getting a much bigger thumping in this general election.
This was Enda Kenny’s election to lose and he did in that he failed to have his Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government returned to office. As leader of the party with the largest number of seats, he will most likely become the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to serve two consecutive terms of office, but it will feel more like a Pyrrhic victory as it is likely to be a marriage of the shotgun variety with all the parties involved having to make compromises in their policies and, perhaps, break election promises – although that won’t be anything new.