Broken promises in a broken system

The public's utterly altered reaction to Pat Rabbitte illustrates the extent of Labour's decline.

The public's utterly altered reaction to Pat Rabbitte illustrates the extent of Labour's decline.

Pat Rabbitte’s filletting of then minister Pat Carey on ‘Prime Time’ in November 2010 captured the anger of a public justly angered with how Fianna Fáil ran Ireland into the ground.

His words captured the zeitgeist of an electorate determined to give the Soldiers of Destiny a kicking – and that they duly did three months later.

“You should be ashamed to show your face in the studio after what you have brought to our country to penury, and the damage that you have done to people’s livelihoods – you have destroyed this economy,” he bellowed.

“You denied it and then you went on to pretend it was Ireland coming to the rescue of Europe. It’s about time you went, because you can do no more damage to this country.

“It’s the fault of the Irish government and you ought to be ashamed of where you have brought us.”

Pat Rabbitte’s anger felt real that night. It felt as he was representing the voice of the people that night, as Pat Carey’s grey visage grew increasingly opaque with every passing second during that ‘Prime Time’ broadcast. It felt as if he actually gave a damn.

It’s worth remember that ‘way back when’, his party leader Eamon Gilmore was playing an absolute blinder during Leader’s Questions, largely articulating the frustration of the people when it came to Brian Cowen’s ham-fisted tenure as Taoiseach.

And let’s not forger that Gilmore’s powerful oratory left Enda Kenny firmly playing second fiddle on the opposition benches in the build-up to the 2011 General Election.

And that carried into the election campaign, when Gilmore’s declaration of “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” left the Fine Gael leader’s Five Point Plan decidedly in the shade.

It’s hard to believe that was only three years ago; in political terms it might as well be 20 given how low Labour’s stock at national level now stands.

The public’s perception of Messrs Rabbitte and Gilmore has changed. Changed utterly.

Barely two years after he’d verbally ripped Pat Carey to shreds, Pat Rabbitte (64), now in office and speaking with astonishing pomposity, uttered a comment which surely means he won’t stand for re-election come 2016.

For fear I’m accused of twisting Minister Rabbitte’s words, what follows is the infamous 69 seconds broadcast on ‘The Week In Politics’ just over a year ago.

Pearse Doherty TD: “Do you actually have red line issues anymore?”

Pat Rabbitte TD: “We, against all of the odds, protected core social welfare rates. That was a profound commitment…made under difficult circumstances…

Sean O’Rourke (presenter): “Do you accept you’ve broken promises, clearly understandable and understood promises?”

Pat Rabbitte: “Well at this stage of the lifetime of the government, clearly we had to find money somewhere and clearly some of them are a breach of the promise. But as I said in the Dáil when the facts change, I change my mind – I don’t know what you do.”

Sean O’Rourke: “What facts change?”

Pat Rabbitte: “The fact that the European economy…we couldn’t predict that two years ago that the European economy was going to be in recession.”

Sean O’Rourke: “You could predict nothing with certainty two years ago…

Pat Rabbitte: “But that is the point. You can’t predict it with certainty.”

Sean O’Rourke: “But you predicted with certainty that there’d be no cuts in Child Benefit if you were in government?”

Pat Rabbitte: “Well, the, eh, situation, eh, Sean is, the debate has run for a very long time about whether the best off people in our society should be in receipt of Child Benefit – and there is a report under the chairmanship of Ita Mangan completed, and…

Sean O’Rourke: “Yeah, but you didn’t go into all that detail before the election; you kept it really simple: protect Child Benefit, vote Labour.”

Pat Rabbitte: “Yeah, well, I mean. bit isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”   

The speed at which Labour’s leadership disconnected themselves from public sentiment in the wake of coming to office was quite astonishing – and let’s not forget Leo Varadkar’s “red cent” pre-election declaration either.

And to watch government ministers reading from Civil Service prepared scripts week after week in the Dáil, spoken with such cold, detached and passionless delivery offers a reminder of who really holds the reins of power.

The Local and European Elections are looming, and the changed political landscapes in both Waterford and Tipperary look set to provide us with some real blood and thunder campaigning between now and next summer.

Councillors have very little power, and despite Phil Hogan’s protestations, they’ll have even less say under the ‘Putting People First’ plan as far as I’m concerned.

That the Minister is effectively holding onto the first year’s Property Tax as opposed to divesting it back to the country’s local authorities will also make balancing the new Waterford Council’s budget all the more difficult. And that hardly sounds like putting people, or local democracy for that matter, first.

So to anyone about to embark on the hustings, here’s some free advice: stop making promises you can’t possibly guarantee delivery upon.

And to those opening such doors: ask questions. Lots of them. If someone wants your vote, they better bloody earn it.

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