There is no hint of modesty in Fine Gael’s claims for its future economic and political plans. This is the ‘most ambitious programme for political reform since the 1930s’ according to their leading spokespeople as they proclaim their vision of a ‘New Republic.’ Alas Fine Gael’s ‘new’ Republic would look very similar to the old one which that party had a big hand in fashioning.
At their Conference, Party Leader Enda Kenny outlined three ‘pillars’ on which their new programme would be based – a jobs programme, reform of the health system and political reforms.
The proposals on health have been around for quite some time now but have not been subjected to any significant analysis or debate. They are ‘revolutionary’, according to Kenny. About as revolutionary as the Che Guevara lookalike who caricatures radical slogans to sell the wares of a private, ‘for profit’ health insurance company in a recent tv advert.
Fine Gael’s plan would, in fact, mean a wholesale privatisation in the health system. True the hospitals would remain in State ownership but the health care within them would be determined by private insurance companies competing with each other.
The Fine Gael programme is quite blunt on this point. ‘At the moment Ireland has two administrative systems of health – one public(the HSE) and one private(the insurance companies) . . . . . over time these two systems will become one, run by the insurance companies.’ (Fair Care, Page 7)
Public hospitals would be autonomous units which would have to compete with other hospitals, including private hospitals, for ‘business’ from the health insurance industry. Hospital doctors, nurses and administrative staff would be forced into a vicious competition dictated by the drive for profits by the insurance companies. This would inevitably distort what should really dictate the criteria for proper health care, that is human feeling and the welfare of the patient.
Fine Gael says its plan is modelled on the Dutch health system where controversies very familiar to us here in Ireland regarding hospital hygiene and staff shortages feature also. And health insurance does not come cheap there at over €1,000 per year for an individual, with the average family paying €4,000.
Fine Gael’s ‘new’ Republic would be very much a ‘privatised’ Republic. Investment in its jobs policy would be funded by investment from the sale of publicly owned industries involving the privatisation of parts of Bord Gais, ESB International and other State companies. Half of the €18 billion it says it would invest in long term infrastructure projects would be raised from bondholders.
Would these be the same bondholders who were busy pushing up interest rates to the Irish taxpayers in 2008 and 2009 as the financial crisis hit home with a vengeance? Or the same bondholders who are currently crucifying the people of Greece, in one instance requiring them to pay an extortionate €745 million more in interest payments on a €5 billion loan than it would cost Germany – simply because they can?
These are the same merchants whose gambling on sub prime mortgages in the United States and in other dubious financial schemes around the world precipitated the world wide crisis for which working people and the poor are paying right.
In the small print and somewhat lost in the flurry of exaggerated claims about this ‘historic’ programme is that Fine Gael wants to double the cuts in public expenditure planned by the Fianna Fail/Green Party Government for next year – €2 billion in cuts rather than €1 billion! How many existing jobs depending on public spending would be lost as a result of this?
Fine Gael also makes exaggerated claims for its political reforms. Some of these have already been quietly dropped in face of opposition from its own members and while some of us have long pointed out that the undemocratic Seanad should be abolished, it hardly makes for revolutionary change.
People up and down the country are utterly cynical about the political establishment. The key reason for this is not so much the current political structures, but the fact that the main political parties which dominate politics in the State are, and have always been in the pockets of powerful commercial interests. This has been seen most dramatically in recent years in the free reign given to the orgy of profiteering in the property market by speculators, developers and banks.
Fine Gael, like Fianna Fail, has colluded with these vested interests as evidenced in the development plan process of local authorities around the country where they supported land rezoning that only benefitted speculators. At national level also, the party never opposed the free reign given to these interests unbridled greed. Why should we have any faith in a ‘new’ Republic emerging from a party with this record?