Opinion Polls Confirm Labour Party Slide and Fianna Fail Gain

Two separate opinion polls have confirmed the recent rise in support for Fianna Fail and the continuing decline in the popularity of the Labour Party.

The left-wing Labour Party has been widely criticized by both its rank and file membership and by some of its own Parliamentary members for its conduct while in Government. The primary purpose of the Labour Party was to protect the most vulnerable and poorest sections of Irish society. Their association with the policies of the ruling Fine Gael Party is making a lie of that philosophy.

Already they have signed up to budget cuts and tax increases including the new Property Tax that the Party claims it had no choice but to agree to. Their difficulties are reflected in two recent polls that show the Party now trailing Sinn Fein in several key Dublin constituencies. The results of the two polls are shown below:

Labour Party 11% and 11% (19% in 2011 General Election)
Fianna Fail 24% and 21% (17% in 2011)
Fine Gael 26% and 28% (36% in 2011)
Sinn Fein 13% and 19% (10% in 2011)

The trend is very clear with Labour in decline, Fianna Fail improving, Sinn Fein improving but volatile and a big increase in the ‘worry factor’ for Fine Gael.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay

Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay

The ‘Croke Park Agreement’ is a deal between Public Service Unions and the Irish Government. It broadly states that there the Government will not implement any further cuts in pay for Public Servants in exchange for an increase in productivity and greater flexibility in respect of work practices.

The rates of pay and conditions enjoyed by Irish public servants have been the subject of severe criticism in Ireland in the last few years, especially given the appalling state of the public finances.

A successor to the Cork Park Agreement is being negotiated between the Government and Union officials with both sides taking pot-shots at each other using the media as their weapon. The latest example of such public negotiating was by the Irish Taoiseach (leader, Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. His Fine Gael Party has been criticized for allowing the continuation of the Croke Park Agreement despite the fact that the country is effectively bankrupt. Fine Gael are to a certain extent hamstrung by the fact that they are in coalition with the Labour Party who are adamantly opposed to their core membership enduring any further pay cuts.

Enda Kenny has made it clear that if no agreement is forthcoming then the Irish Government will introduce legislation to enable it to reduce wages and automatic annual increments (pay rises), and to introduce a compulsory redundancy program.

Such a unilateral action would cause difficulties for the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore who is already reeling from the criticism his Party has endured after the introduction of the annual Property Tax. He will be hoping that his Trade Union colleagues can strike a deal with his Government that will prevent such a necessity.

Both Fine Gael and Labour have suffered badly in recent Irish opinion polls and it is vital that they are seen to strike a deal that is good for the country.

Edited by Michael Green
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Increase in Support for Fianna Fail as Government Parties Suffer

A recent opinion poll of Irish voters has shown a further increase in support for Fianna Fail. The party that has been blamed for the current economic downturn was pummeled in the last General Election but is now beginning to show signs of recovery.

Perhaps part of the reason for Fianna Fail’s rebound is the failure of Fine Gael to introduce a ‘new kind of politics’ as they promised. At the last General Election Enda Kenny’s party asked Fianna Fail supporters to ‘lend us your vote’ while they got the country back on track. Many voters did and it seems are now regretting their decision.

The poll showed Fine Gael at 29%, down 7% since the 2011 election. Fianna Fail are next at 21%, up 4% since election day. The vote for Sinn Fein is very volatile and they are currently at 16%, up by 6% from the last election. The biggest loser is the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished for their collusion in introducing austerity budgets and a national property tax. They are currently on 13%, down by 6% since the election.

Of course it is difficult to say just how much of the Fianna Fail support is just a protest at the current government. What remains a real possibility though is that the party could at least hope to return to government in the next election, especially given the difficulties faced by the Labour Party.

A year ago that seemed like a fanciful thought.

Sixth Successive Austerity Budget May Be The Final Straw

The annual budget announced by the Irish Government has been received with a greater degree of anger and protest than previous announcements. This is the sixth successive austerity budget that Irish Governments have enacted. All have been unpopular but this latest budget may represent a tipping point.

Already reeling from years of tax hikes and cuts in services the Irish public had elected Fine Gael and the Labour Party on the basis that a new direction would be taken. A very different direction from that followed by the previous Fianna Fail administration.

It is not that the Irish people expected a sudden end to the financial pain that the country has endured – far from it. But they were entitled to expect that Fine Gael and Labour would not simply continue to enact Fianna Fail’s policies. These were the very policies that caused Fianna Fail to be trounced so convincingly at the last general election.

Fine Gael promised a new direction while Labour promised to protect the less well-off and vulnerable. These latest budget announcements have clearly made a lie of those promises.

Cuts to child benefit, a new property tax, increases in social insurance payments, cuts to services to pensioners! 3.5 Billion euro in cuts and tax hikes were announced which will result in just about every family being hit by an average of at least an extra 1000 euro annually. The important word in that last sentence is ‘extra’. The property tax alone will take hundreds from every household on top of the other taxes.

‘You cannot tax your way out of a recession’ is a tenet that clearly the current Government does not agree with. It is just impossible to quantify the amount of cash that is being taken out of the Irish economy, both in terms of actual currency and in terms of consumer and investor confidence, at precisely the time when that economy needs to be stimulated.

It seems that Fine Gael are playing a long game. Get the pain over with now. Take the hit and hope things turn around in the next couple of years before the next election. If all fails then blame the last Fianna Fail Government for getting us into this mess. If the economy turns the corner and things improve then they can claim the credit. Pretty cynical stuff.

And what of the Labour Party – the protector of the vulnerable. By introducing a property tax in Ireland they have likely provided Sinn Fein with the final nail to pound into their coffin. The property tax will be an annual tax and it is almost certain to be one of the big issues that may even decide the next general election. Labour look certain to be decimated. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein can offer to scrap the tax if they are installed in power – that would be a sure vote-grabber. Pretty cynical stuff.

The next few days and weeks will show if the Irish people still have some fight left. Is this really a tipping point or have the Irish simply given up and succumbed to the weight of recession and austerity? And cynicism.

Huge Public Support in Ireland for Abortion Legislation in X-Case

The X-case in Ireland refers to an Irish Supreme Court case that established that Irish women are entitled to an abortion if their life is in danger, including in danger from the risk of suicide. The 1992 ruling caused decades of controversy and although the decision was handed down by the Court successive Irish Governments have never provided legislation to specifically detail how the judgment may be used.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother is in peril. For the last two decades it has been left to medical staff to make individual judgements on a case-by-case basis. The recent death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital has brought this emotive issue to a head. Mrs. Halappanavar died after a complications due to a miscarriage and apparently after being refused an abortion to hasten that miscarriage. Her death prompted street rallies in Dublin and elsewhere.

A recent poll by the ‘Sunday Business Post’ newspaper has revealed that 85% of the Irish public now favours legislation in this area, allowing abortion where the mother’s life is in danger, including the risk of suicide. Some campaigners may hail this as a first step on the road to greater access to abortion in Ireland, while those opposed to abortion will likely attempt to block the legislation.

The issue will certainly cause real problems for the Irish Government that currently consists of two parties: Fine Gael and Labour. Several Fine Gael T.D.s (members of the Irish parliament) are much more conservative than their Labour Party colleagues and given the emotion attached to this issue it could potentially cause a real rift in the Government.

Further Crackdown on Welfare on the Way

It is a sign of the economic times that social welfare is again being targeted by a broke Irish government. Years of austerity, cutbacks and tax hikes have not yet been enough to balance the books in Ireland so the next target is those people who have already lost their jobs.

The ‘Jobseekers Allowance’ is usually paid for 12 months after unemployment begins but it is likely this will be cut to 9 months after which time the allowance will become subject to a ‘means test’. Such an individual examination of a persons income is likely to result in the amount paid being reduced. There are also a percentage of people who would be more encouraged to seek out work rather than endure a means test and a likely welfare cut.

This so called ‘labour activation measure’ could affect as many as 40,000 people in Ireland and is certain to be greeted with hostility by sections of the Labour Party who are currently in coalition with Fine Gael. The measure is likely to be yet another wedge to be driven between the two government parties in what is becoming a regular occurrence. The chances of Labour actually leaving Government though are pretty remote. Their public support has plummeted in recent months if the opinion polls are to be believed and any short-term election would see the party severely punished.

More likely Labour will try to water-down or even prevent the new measures from being implemented. With other big issues such as the abortion legislation and the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ also on the horizon it looks like the differences between Fine Gael and Labour are once again about to be brought into stark relief. Much to the delight of the opposition parties.

Remarkable Reversal in Fortune is Possible for Fianna Fail

The Fianna Fail party that governed while the Irish economy collapsed is showing signs of life. The party was pummeled in the last general election, winning only 20 seats in the Irish parliament (Dail Eireann), having previously held 71 seats. The big winners were Fine Gael and the Labour Party who won an extra 25 and 17 seats respectively, sweeping the two parties into a coalition government on the back of an unprecedented popular mandate. It looked like the end of the road for the once all-powerful Fianna Fail.

Since that February 2011 election Fianna Fail has struggled to establish the party as even the genuine force of opposition in the parliament, with Sinn Fein repeatedly grabbing the headlines while Fianna Fail licked its wounds. Both government parties rarely missed an opportunity to berate Fianna Fail for the economic mess the country was left in, constantly reminding the media and voters that the problems in the country were all caused by the previous government.

It is beginning to look as if that mantra may be wearing a bit thin.

Fine Gael and Labour were voted into office in the belief that they would change the way politics in Ireland is conducted. They promised sweeping economic and political reforms with ‘burn the bond-holders’ the motto of choice for the more militant of Labour supporters (a reference to the fact that Fianna Fail had pledged to repay mostly German and French bondholders in exchange for IMF/EU/ECB funding to keep the country running).

To a large extent the new government has not delivered. Some commentators are pondering just how much longer Fine Gael and Labour can continue to blame Fianna Fail for the rescue plan they implemented in the dying days of their tenure, while at the same time continuing to implement that same plan. Perhaps the government parties felt that there was such public discontent with Fianna Fail that it did not really matter that they were just carrying on the same policies. All that mattered was that they were not Fianna Fail.

A recent opinion poll should help to focus the mind of those currently in power. Fianna Fail are at 22%, Fine Gael at 30%, Labour at 12%, Sinn Fein at 14% and Independents at 19%. Fianna Fail have risen from 16% in recent months and continue to make ground against the Labour Party who look certain to be severely punished at the next general election. In recent years Sinn Fein have polled well prior to the actual ballot but never quite made the major breakthrough when the votes were counted. If that trend were to continue then the possibility of Fianna Fail being back in government within the next two general elections would be a real possibility – an amazing turnaround by any standard.

It is up to the current government and Fine Gael in particular to deliver on their election promises. Blaming Fianna Fail does not seem to be enough for an impatient and suffering Irish public.