It is because of the nature of the circumstances, because of the impossibility of foreseeing future developments, because of the need for giving the Government power to act quickly in relation to these developments, that this section has been drawn in this wide manner.
- Seán F. Lemass TD, Emergency Powers Bill debate (Dáil Éireann, 2-9-1939)
It is no exaggeration to say that we now face one of the darkest hours in the history of our independent state. To deal with this unprecedented national economic emergency, our country needs an unprecedented level of political resolve. What is needed now after a long period of reckless, ill disciplined Government is strong, resolute leadership.
- “Statement of Common Purpose”, Fine Gael/Labour coalition (7-3-2011)
With the dreary predictability of a thirties adventure serial, those components of the National Austerity Front whom circumstance has spared opprobrium have finally torn away their masks to reveal what we knew all along; that they are one and the same.
The tenor of the Programme For Government’s preamble skirts dangerously close to the argot of national-salvation fascism, a fact which might cause greater alarm had such language not been systematically normalised and legitimised by our national media and political establishment over the past three years.
Most disturbing of all is the reappearance of the “democratic revolution” motif, which became an ex post facto slogan of the Fine Gael campaign only after the election itself. The constant stressing of the government’s supposedly cast-iron mandate should put the fear of God in the poor and the vulnerable.
Beyond the rhetorical indicators, there are a few conclusions we can draw:
1: The government is likely to see out its full term.
2: The anti-public sector rhetoric may be toned down, but the offensive will gather momentum with the connivance of a trade union leadership which now has no incentive whatever to stand up and fight.
3: Revisions to the Memorandum of Understanding will at least double the job cull in the public sector within two years. Moreover, the government is aware of this, hence the apparent compromise around Labour’s lower figure.
4: The commitment to preserving the basic rate of social welfare will be finessed by fragmenting Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance into a wide variety of different means-tested and contingent payments, coupled with unprecedented harassment of the unemployed (an explicit manifesto pledge of both parties.) Note that the Programme For Government includes no reference to the previous administration’s scandalous cuts in payment to young adults.
Some of the proposals for local government reform are reasonably encouraging in principle; however, the coalition has nothing to lose on this front, given its joint or overall control of so many local authorities. Despite the superficial steps towards democratisation, collusion between central government, council bureaucracy and local representatives is likely to be even more pronounced under the new dispensation.
For a broader analysis, see WorldByStorm’s exegesis on Cedar Lounge.