Political spin can’t cover up lack of action

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The conventional political wisdom is that a new government takes the tough actions in its first year or two so that the benefits will have started to appear in time for the next election.

For whatever reason — be it confusion, lack of direction or the sheer elation of getting into office — this administration has opted to use its first year to do precious little, apart from spin.

While spin, and plenty of it, may have seen them through their first year in office, it is no replacement for real action.

It is a lesson that others in the state sector should consider as well. The lack of action in the wake of the BAI’s findings that RTE treated a Presidential candidate unfairly is depressing.

It undermines public confidence in both. How can the BAI unambiguously find that a candidate for the highest office in the land was treated unfairly by the public broadcaster and yet say that no action is necessary as the complaint “was not of such a serious nature as to warrant an investigation or public hearings”?

RTE’s refusal to submit its systems and management to the same spotlight it shines on others in public life speaks volumes about how it sees itself. Its inability to act decisively means this Frontline debacle will linger on, damaging RTE’s already tarnished reputation.

It is the same with Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. Failure to act firmly and decisively will be their eventual undoing, too.

A few weeks ago, they declared themselves to have made a “solid start” in their first end-of-year report card.

How could it have been otherwise when ministers were not only allowed to mark their own tests, but could carry forward the work done by their predecessors and claim it as their own?

As they enter their second year, the real test for them is not a comparison with what they cobbled together after the election but with what they promised before it.

Both parties went into that campaign telling the public how differently they would do things. Within days, the cries of not a red cent and Frankfurt’s way had been dropped in favour of implementing the previous Government’s strategy.

While the Government awards itself a “solid-start” grade, the polls suggest that the public does not concur.

A recent poll showed a 70 per cent dissatisfaction rate with the Government. Such a fall in approval for a government just one year in office is staggering.

The result is confirmed by Eurobarometer polls showing that people are now more pessimistic about the country’s future than they were a year ago.

Small wonder that the polls suggest Labour is losing support to Sinn Fein, as it is now saying what Labour said 18 months ago.

No matter that it offers no realistic route map for the future. As long as it sounds ok and can fit neatly on the millions of A4 sheets being churned through Aengus O Snodaigh’s printer, who cares?

When it comes to spin and double thinking, Sinn Fein is the match of the Government any day.

Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald do not blink an eye rising in the Dail to denounce health and education spending cuts here, while their comrades in arms cheerfully defend similar cuts in Stormont.

While the polls show a huge level of public dissatisfaction with the Government, they are not showing any movement to Fianna Fail. My only surprise at this is that anyone finds this result surprising.

Fianna Fail is just one year on from the greatest public hammering it has ever taken.

That level of public anger was never going to abate quickly. The party has spent most of the last year looking to reconnect itself with its own members and core supporters.

It has barely started the process of re-engaging with those it disappointed most in recent years.

Michael Martin’s apology at the Ard Fheis is an important step in that process. So too were the reforms and major changes to how Fianna Fail does politics.

It may take some time for the opinion polls to show the party’s fortunes improving, but a renewed Fianna Fail must emerge if there is to be a viable alternative to the spin-driven politics that dominates today.

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