The year is slowly drawing to a close, and here in DHR we’re in a reflective mood! Our Account Advisor and chief political anorak, Tony Heffernan, takes a look at the political events of 2015 and what to expect in 2016…
Even if it lacked the intense drama of 2014 (which saw, among other things, the resignation of the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner; the rise of the water protests; the collapse of the Labour vote in the local and European elections and the subsequent resignation of Eamon Gilmore as Leader; and the emergence of the Maria Cahill disclosures), 2015 was a busy political year which provided more than enough material to keep the political anoraks preoccupied for the past twelve months.
For many people, the outstanding memory of 2015 will have been that gloriously sunny Saturday in May, when the results of the marriage equality referendum came tumbling out of the ballot boxes, showing what can be achieved when political parties and civic society work together to deliver real change.
For the Government parties the outstanding feature of 2015 should have been the remarkable manner in which the economy has rebounded from the unprecedented depths of despair when it took office in 2011. The figures are indisputable, with every economic indicator showing massive progress, yet this has not resulted in any significant recovery in support levels for the Government parties. Despite the first ‘give-away’ budget for eight years, it is clear that the impact of the recovery has not filtered through to every part of the country and many voters are still smarting from the economic pain inflicted on them in the early years of this administration.
Much of Government time is taken up with crisis management. And it was no different during the past year. The British Prime Minister, Harold McMillan, when once asked in the approach to an election what he most feared, is reported to have said ‘events, dear boy, events’. Enda Kenny and Joan Burton spent a lot of 2015 dealing with ‘events’.
When the government decided in 2013 to liquidate the IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish), it surely must have hoped that it would then be free of an institution that had caused such economic and political damage in the State. But the IBRC continued to haunt the government in 2015, with allegations of the sell-off of assets at bargain basement prices and claims of favourable interest rates for selected borrowers.
This brought Denis O’Brien on to the scene with his legal action against RTÉ and threats and actual legal cases taken against the Oireachtas and individual TDs and short lived talk of a ‘constitutional crisis’.
The year also witnessed the further fragmentation of the Irish political system with the establishment of two new political parties – Renua and the Social Democrats – not to mention the Shane Ross led Independent Alliance. If they are to make a real impact newly established political parties require early momentum. Despite the undoubted qualities of the individual members involved, there is no real evidence of any of the newly established parties achieving that momentum and it remains to be seen what impact they will have in the election.
While the fallout from ‘the siege of Jobstown’ continued to be felt, the level of intensity of the water charge protests appeared to be diminishing as the year went on. Justice issues are always a problem for government and it was a similar story this year. While the report of the Fennelly Commission contained no smoking gun to wound the Government, the manner of the release of the report inflicted its own damage.
During the past twelve months all political activity – by Government and opposition – has been influenced by the imminence of the general election. Despite this, as we approach the end of the year, the levels of support for the political parties, as measured by opinion polls, are broadly where they were at the beginning of the year.
It is much easier- and safer – to review the happenings of the past year, than to forecast the events of the coming year. All we know for certain is that there has to be a general election in the early months of the year and the money is on an election at the end of February or early March.
The polls point to an inconclusive outcome with the Dáil facing great difficulty in putting a government together (although it should be said that polls in the UK got it spectacularly wrong in this regard on the May general election there). In 1992 the Dáil was dissolved on November and an election called, but because of the indecisive nature of the result, it was not until January 12th 1993 that a government was actually put together. Christmas was a complicating factor in that process, the Easter Rising commemoration may provide its own complications on this occasion.
Who would bet, at this stage, against a similarly lengthy period to put a government together after the 2016 election?