The General Election 2011

General Election 2011 by Annette J Dunlea

Published In The Carrigdhoun Newspaper 12th Feb p.9

After The Greens the coalition party withdrew their support from Fianna Fail, the Irish government collapsed. This forced Ireland to have a general election which is to be held on 11th March 2011.Political parties have set out to win over the electorate with their plans on the future of the economy, banking sector and job creation.Polls show delines for all parties it promises to be one of the most fascinating in the history of the state.Fine Gael hold lead in polls,with Labour coming a close second in opinion polls but Micheal Martin is tagged as the most popular leader. A coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour are tipped to form the next government. Fianna Fail should keep some seats. Sharp differences between Fine Gael and Labour emerged over the past weeks as the election campaign got under way.

Running for election you have the main political parties: Fianna Fail, Fianna Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein and the Independents.Set against a backdrop of economic crisis and the EU bailout , huge shifts of power are expected. How many seats will Fianna Fail lose,how many seats will Labour gain, will the Greens be wiped out and will Sinn Fein and the independents gain extra seats?

Fianna Fail, the party that has ruled Ireland for most of its independent history, they are headed for a huge defeat.Voters rightly blame Fianna Fail for the reckless policies of recent years. When that property bubble burst in 2008, Fianna Fail pledged more than the government could afford to rescue its banker friends. The bankers emerged nearly whole. Ireland emerged nearly bankrupt.The EU and IMF provided bailout but with austerity conditions so strict and interest rates so high that Ireland has been left with no realistic prospects for resuming growth and paying off its debts.Ireland’s debts are so large, and its interest rates so high, that it now needs 5 percent annual growth just to stay afloat. Because of the harsh austerity budgets Europe has demanded, it is generating no growth at all. Irish opposition parties want to revisit the bailout terms.

Brian Cowen’s resignation does not signify the end of our troubles , it is the beginning of a long road to economic stability. The new government by public mandate will haveto renegotiate the high interest rates on the $118 billion bailout plan. They must try to repair Ireland’s reputation and restore international faith in the country.Fianna Fail will be regulated to take a backseat in government, many say their tenure was too long we need a change.

Fianna Fail has a major challenge on its hands to get any seats in the 31st Dail. There are reports of doors being slammed in the faces of party canvassers. Rebel Fianna Fail TD Noel O’Flynn will not stand in the general but heurged the public to support the younger candidate junior minister Billy Kelleher.There has been an undignified mass exodus from the parliamentary party. The party’s forces are seriously depleted and a lot of big names have disappeared from the hustings, reinforcing the negative message to the electorate.There is little doubt the party will lose seats in significant numbers.The issue of the bank guarantee continues to haunt Fianna Fáil, with allegations of cronyism. An energetic campaign by Martin and his new front bench could turn things around a little bit. Fianna Fail have in the past a huge traditional and loyal following and Irish peole change their voting habits rarely. However, the public consenus is anger towards the party.

“Trust”, “honesty” and “fight!” Those were the three words that John Gormley kept using today as The Green Party officially launched their election campaign.The Green Party’s six TDs will retain their seats in the General Election, leader John Gormley has predicted! However, polls say that the Green Party is facing wipeout in the polls.Voters look set to exact revenge on the former junior government party for the bank bailout and the Irish economic crisis in the forthcoming election.With support for the Greens now at 1%, all of the party’s Dail deputies face a losing battle to hang on to their Dail seats.Mr Gormley said the Greens would make political reform their major policy area.

Green Party backs Kenny proposal for five-way debates. Mr Gormley predicted “a clash of egos as well as a clash of policies” between Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore if they went into government together.The Green Party has said its support for any new government in the next Dáil will be conditional on firm commitments to political reform.”Renewing Ireland” is the motto of the Greens campaign and they claim that above all they will be honest with the public about what lies ahead.The Green Party are hitting out at Fine Gael for having loads of theories which will not work in practice.

Mr.Gerry Adams said 40 Sinn Fein candidates would be fighting to secure a seat in each of the 37 constituencies in which they are standing. The Sinn Fein leader said the party would not put Fianna Fail or Fine Gael into Government, nor “tie ourselves on like the Greens or Labour have done in other decades”. The Sinn Fein president said his party would also seek root and branch political reform, job creation, an end to two-tier health and education systems, the proper use of Ireland’s natural resources and continued support for the peace process.

Gerry Adams said : “We want to bring about change and if we can agree a programme for Government, that is fair enough. If we can’t, that is fair enough as well. We will continue to be agents for change.” “We know what it’s like to be in government, we are in government in the North.”We know the difficulties and the challenges which that presents but we are only in there to bring about change. “We only want to be in government here if we have a mandate.” Sinn Fein is indeed the one party promising to tear up the deal with the IMF/EU and start again.They’re better organised this time and we have the peace process. Younger Irish voters don’t necessarily have that ingrained respect for the Dail and the rule of law which their elders always held dear. Best of all, Sinn Fein has a hugely popular candidate Pearse Doherty.Sinn Fein would reverse Government cuts. The party has selected two female candidates.Sinn Fein in President Gerry Adams has said his party wants to be in Government, but it is up to the electorate to decide the formation at the next General.

Sinn Fein is suggesting that that Ireland should unilaterally withdraw from the IMF/EU bailout deal and welch on the senior bondholders who lent to Irish banks.Meanwhile, they believe the 18.7 billion needed to run hospitals, schools, council services and the rest of the public sector could be funded from the National Pension Reserve Fund and the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) on the assumption that Ireland could return to those same bond markets next year to borrow again.Unsurprisingly, it has proven attractive to a population feeling the pain of new budget taxes, welfare cuts and record unemployment.

Doherty is on a mission to hold all parties and in particular the Labour party to account for not pursuing its no confidence motion in the government. Doherty clarified Sin Fein’s plan was to transfer funds from the NTMA and the National Pension Reserve Fund to service day-to-day spending.Iceland burned their bondholders and they returned to the markets and the rates that they re getting are quite low. So it is possible. The latest Red C poll showed support for Sinn Fein at 13 per cent, up from 7 per cent in the 2007 general election. Based on current poll numbers, Sinn Fein could add 15 TDs to its existing five seats in the Dail after the next election.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has claimed his party in power would create jobs, fix the health service and rescue the country from financial crisis.The opposition challenger also pledged to cut the size of Government and make politicians shoulder the burden of pain before everyone else.Fine Gael pledges mortgage interest relief for those in negative equity.

Fine Gael said the next government would be forced to “unilaterally” restructure the debt of Irish banks if agreement cannot be reached with Europe on senior bond holders sharing the cost of recapitalizing the country’s insolvent banks.Fine Gael, the favourite to form the next coalition government, said senior bond holders in nationalized banks, such as Anglo Irish Bank Corp. and Irish Nationwide Building Society, would be forced to share the burden through a Europe-wide framework. However, the party’s banking policy document, launched Friday by finance spokesman Michael Noonan, said if agreement with Europe could not be reached, the next government would itself be forced to undertake a restructuring of the private debts of Irish banks in greatest need of recapitalization. “It is neither morally right nor economically sustainable for taxpayers to be asked to beggar themselves to make massive profits for speculators,” the document said.Mr. Noonan later said the restructuring would apply only to unguaranteed senior debt, estimated to be worth around €18.5 billion ($25.22 billion), and the debt of Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide. Senior bond holders in Irish banks are currently protected by a blanket guarantee of Irish banks’ debt put in place in 2008. The potential revocation of that guarantee, alongside the wider renegotiation of the terms of Ireland’s €67.5 billion bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, has become one of the most hotly debated issues in the Irish general election.

However, Fine Gael’s banking policy document says the party believes fears about the implications of bank debt restructuring are “over-cooked”. “A large proportion of the €25 billion in unsecured junior and senior Irish bank debts have already been sold on at significant discounts to private clients and hedge funds in London and elsewhere, which hope the Irish state can be pressed into honoring these bank debts in full,” the document said. The party said it wants greater European support for the recapitalization of its banks. In particular it says the terms of reference of the euro zone’s European Financial Stability Fund and the EU’s emergency funding program European Financial Stability Mechanism should be renegotiated to allow them to take equity and long-term debt investments in systemically important European banks, such as Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland PLC.

Another option, the party said, would be for Ireland to buy “insurance” from the EU to guard against the risk that losses in Irish banks are significantly greater than currently projected.The party’s policy document also says that the Irish state needs to reduce its banking system’s dependence on short-term funding from the European Central Bank. “Unless we can diversify the sources of funding for our financial system, it will be difficult for the Irish state to re-gain access to the private bond market,” it said. The party says that to achieve this it intends to collaborate with U.S. regulatory authorities to collate the dollar assets of Irish banks that could be used as security to secure funding from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Enda Kenny has pledged to make the North a priority if he gets into Government after the General Election on March 11.Fine Gael has said it will launch an inquiry into the controversial Poolbeg incinerator if the party is involved in the next government.He said any new Fine Gael Justice Minister will work hand-in-hand with the Assemblys Justice Minister.Also top of the agenda is an all-island economy, which Enda Kenny believes could strengthen our competitiveness and tackle unemployment.

Fine Gael will reverse the minimum wage cut imposed by the outgoing Government, spokesman Michael Noonan said.However, Fine Gael has an alternative proposal to cutting the minimum wage. We propose that the 8.5 per cent rate of employers PRSI would be cut by 50 per cent on wages up to the minimum wage level of 356 per week.Mr Noonan accused the Government of not assessing the impact of the universal social charge on low-paid people in full time employment and said these people cannot afford to have their wage cut also.Fine Gael will create 80000 jobs over the next four years if returned to power, party leader Enda Kenny has declared.

Its leader Enda Kenny has said his party’s general election campaign will focus on a five-point policy platform aimed at restoring the economy and regaining Ireland’s international status.Mr Kenny said the five policy areas would be: job creation, low taxes, a new health system based on universal insurance, smaller government and political reform.Most of their 102 candidates who will contest the election for Fine Gael in 43 constituencies. Mr Kenny said the five-point plan would buttress the country s recovery over the next five years. It will give light, clarity and direction to what will be a difficult journey to a better future ahead, he said. Mr Kenny promised that Fine Gael would create 20,000 jobs a year over four years by cutting employers PRSI and by investing the remaining 7 billion from the National Pension Reserve Fund and the proceeds from State assets into developing key infrastructures.He said the message on taxes was that a Fine Gael-led government would prioritise cuts over raising taxes.High taxes kill jobs. We will keep taxes particularly income taxes down. No country has ever taxed its way to economic recovery.

On health, he promised that Fine Gael would introduce a completely new health service.The universal health insurance plan, based on the Dutch model, would dismantle the HSE, provide health insurance to all citizens, with health service provision and administration being privatised.Turning to the small government point, he said streamlining the public service would reduce costs by 5 billion.
He did say that essential services would be protected but was silent on possible reductions in employee numbers.The fifth policy area, political reform, would lead to the number of politicians being cut by over a third, said Mr Kenny, with a ceiling on higher public service salaries.He also said that Fine Gael would introduce a car pooling system for Ministers.He also confirmed his party’s plan to abolish the Seanad.

Mr Eamon Gilmore said the Labour party was proposing three major initiatives to help the economy recover: Renegotiate the EU-IMF bailout package; no increase on income taxes for those earning under €100,000; and control public expenditure.Labour are running 68 candidates in the election.Labour promise single health insurance system.In relation to public spending, he said: “We will apply the scalpel rather than the crude hatchet.”They plan to reduce the deficit to 3 per cent of national income. The country’s largest trade union SIPTU has called on its members to vote for Labour and parties “that support principles of social solidarity” in the forthcoming general election.

Eamon Gilmore has said he will seek a mandate in the general election to renegotiate the €67 billion rescue package with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.He criticised the “bad deal” that was agreed by the outgoing Government, which he said would put the country in a “budgetary straitjacket” for years.Mr Gilmore said the challenge facing the electorate was to accept the rescue deal or to trust Labour to change its terms. “It’s Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way,” he said.Launching his party’s economic plan for stability and growth yesterday, Mr Gilmore said the choice facing the electorate was to have the budget decided in Frankfurt (the headquarters of the ECB) or by the Irish government.Mr Gilmore said his party was opposed to the deal on the basis that it would mean more taxes and more cuts.

The party announced it agreed with a €7 billion, rather than a €9 billion, adjustment between 2012 and 2014. It also disclosed that it wanted to push the date for reaching the 3 per cent target to 2016. Ms Burton said the lower €7 billion adjustment between 2012 and 2014 would allow room for jobs and recovery. The revised schedule would result in the deficit being reduced to just under 5 per cent of national income by 2014. The figures are predicated on growth of 1.55 per cent in 2012 rising to 2.5 per cent in 2014.

Mr Gilmore said Labour would “work the Croke Park deal” with guarantees on no further reductions in pay in return for structural and work-arrangement changes in the public sector. The party said it would seek 18,000 voluntary redundancies in the sector and cap salaries at below €200,000.Mr Gilmore maintained the ratio of cuts to taxes would be one to one. He said €4 billion in cuts were set out in the plan but that €1 billion was being pumped back into the economy to incentivise jobs in areas like education and health. He said some €3 billion in taxes would be raised under the plan. The measures would include ending remaining property tax reliefs; a 1 per cent increase in VAT, a rise in carbon tax and a second home levy.The corporation tax rate would remain at 12.5 per cent. However, in one change, companies would be restricted from carrying over more than 75 per cent of losses into a new tax year.Asked what would Labour do if the ECB in Frankfurt said no to renegotiation, Mr Gilmore argued that the rescue deal would not work and would not be able to reduce Ireland’s deficit to 3 per cent of national income. “We are confident that we can renegotiate it. I will tell you why. The current deal cannot be worked.”

The recession has been unkind to centre-left parties across much of Europe, but Ireland is poised to buck the trend. The Irish Labour party is anticipating record support in the next general election which could propel it into government.It is possible that we could have a government led by Labour. For the last 90 years every single government has been headed by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. So Labour coming out on top would be a really historic change. Even to be contemplating that scenario is massive change.Eamon Gilmore yesterday predicted that Fianna Fail s decision to replace Brian Cowen with Micheal Martin would not have any major impact with voters, who would still hold the senior Government party responsible for the state of the country.”Unemployment and job creation has to receive the priority that it deserves.”.Mr Gilmore said his party would also set up an innovation agency to create investment in technology research as well as a network of technology research centres, such as the Tyndall Centre in University College Cork.

The general election campaign in the Republic is now under way. In some ways it is one of the easiest elections to call: Fianna Fáil will be lose alot of seats, Fine Gael will end up with the biggest share of the vote, and Enda Kenny will be Taoiseach. The Labour Party will probably do better than at any time in its history; Sinn Féin will probably do very well and the Green Party may well be eclipsed.Expectations that a new government will improve the economic situation are muted.Many believe a new government will have no impact of the situation with only 4 per cent think it can make matters worse.No matter who runs Ireland the electorate is firm about what its priorities should be. The creation of employment is regarded as the primary task of any incoming government, followed by correction of the public finances.They have also moved closer on fiscal policy, while broad agreement exists on issues of health, political reform and accountability. Political gaps are closing.Fine Gael-Labour government regarded as by far most likely election outcome.

The End

About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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