- 20 Jun 02
The renewal of Fianna Fail’s coalition with the PD’s is not only a slap in the face for the electorate, but seriously bad news for lovers of the arts.
I feel the need to establish right from the outset that I regard this new Government as a disaster. It has the potential to unleash an appalling vista for the people of this country.
Consider this. Voters gave the Taoiseach 81 deputies, with at least half a dozen Independents who are Fianna Fail at one remove. Yet Bertie Ahern chooses to go into government with the Progressive Democrats as a mudguard for the economic decisions, including cuts in public expenditure, that we will see happen before the end of this year.
The outgoing Government, having inherited a surplus, and having had available to them the largest surpluses of revenue over expenditure in the history of the State, used all those resources to transfer benefits to the wealthiest people in our society. We can now expect more of the same – except that without the surpluses it will hurt even more.
It was the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, who first used the phrase “Centre Right” as a badge of honour for the government. In an interview with the BBC some time ago, he stated that he was proud to be a “Right of Centre” Minister for Finance, and proud to introduce Reaganite and Thatcherite policies in this country.
It is to this thinking that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has handed over the mandate he got from the people in the general election. Although it was not required of him he deliberately brought the PD party and, in Michael McDowell, its most extreme ideologue, into the Cabinet. Fianna Fail has now to be seen as a party that voluntarily surrendered to the right. Mr McCreevy may have succeeded in opening the gates for his friends but there are many I am sure in Fianna Fail who will find this strategy offensive to the traditional views upon which the party was founded. There is nothing republican about distributing the fruits of growth disproportionally to the wealthiest. There is nothing republican about conferring tax benefits on housing speculators. There is nothing republican about a two-tier health system.
Fianna Fail is now a party that stands for the law of the strongest. Deputy McCreevy said that he will publish a book on his five budgets he produced for the outgoing Government. He is proud of the fact that one budget after another distributed all the fruits to those who already had. Within the politics of greed such budgets are regarded as an incentive. Promises were made by Fianna Fail deputies during the General Election campaign at meetings called by those people suffering from physical and intellectual disabilities. They agreed, at those meetings, that legislation in this area should be on a rights basis, Where is the legislation that might make this happen in the programme for Government? It is not there. Indeed there is no recognition of the fundamental principle that a Rights-based approach has to be introduced and supported by a Constitutional Referendum if necessary.
I took a particular interest in the Taoiseach’s changes in the titles and functions of Government Departments. Here was revealed the classic antipathy of the Fianna Fail party to the word culture, and contemporary culture in particular. I was the first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. When I left the department the word “ culture” was removed from its title. Now the department is effectively being abolished.
Responsibility for heritage is now scattered back to the Department of the Environment and Local Government, a department that had responsibilities for Local Authorities, the dangerous building’s sections some of whom I had identified as possibly requiring court action to be taken against then if heritage buildings were to be protected against demolition.
In this, we can see clear evidence of the extraordinary philistimism of the Taoiseach and his government. Where is the Irish language itself in this Government programme? Broadcasting in a technical sense, has gone back to communications. But who has responsibility for Public Service Broadcasting?
Nobody who rings the Government can find who is responsible for Film. Meanwhile, Culture Councils of Ministers of the European Union will be attended, if at all, by whoever happens to be in Brussels for the day.
Why this Fianna Fail antipathy to the word “culture” one might ask?
“In reviewing the responsibilities of the Departments” the Taoiseach said in his speech “I am acutely conscious of the ever-increasing pace of change in needs and priorities in the modern economy”. The requirements of society, or the importance of culture, deserved not a single sentence. Children are to be given an introduction to the importance of the enterprise culture. There is no reference to music education.
We are members of a society, not prisoners of an economy. Those of us on the Left in the Dail will be taking that as our starting point.
When the ideological right wing claptrap of Deputy McDowell and the others is examined by economists, it will be shown to be a pale version of things that have failed elsewhere, with appalling consequences.
Deputy McCreevy knows that but he does not care. I disagree with his assumptions about the market model he adopts. He and the Government will attempt to extend this application through Public Private Partnerships into education, health and caring services. He and the Government will use this model as little less than an instrument of oppression in relation to the economy. The contradiction is that they are facilitating new multi national monopolies while they’re putting publicly owned assets, the property of the people built up over the years, for sale. One must ask what will be left.
From the Labour benches I and other deputies of the Left will oppose the Government on these polices. More than that, we will seek the assistance of others, and the support of the public, in the organisation of the alternative view of the economy – a peopled economy, democratically accountable, free of corruption and unequivocally committed to a social vision that stresses inclusion, equality, justice, rights – and that respects the role of creativity in a vibrant culture.
We will not just moan about the state of the finances, as if it was a managerial problem, or speak as though the economy and finances were separate from politics. We will be offering a different model, based on social inclusion and founded on citizenship.
This is no time to be cynical about politics. Faced with a right wing Government that is hell-bent on institutionalising an individualist culture of greed here, we must, with all the energy we can muster, outline and organise the alternative
Remember what Raymond Williams wrote in his last book: “It is when the inevitabilities are questioned that we have taken the first steps in a journey of hope.”