It’s hard to admit it, but FF’s strategy has gone wrong


Since I left Government nine months ago, I have committed my political thinking to finding new and innovative ways of restoring confidence in our capacity to earn our way out of our economic difficulties.
It has been the consistent and re-occurring theme of the articles I have written here over the past 8 – 9 months.
Restoring confidence is vital, but so too is maintaining trust.
As someone who believes that the Government is broadly pursuing the right economic policies and who believes in the integrity of my former Fianna Fáil ministerial colleagues I take no pleasure in admitting that the Government’s actions and comments over the past ten days have fundamentally undermined public trust.
Putting out Ministers to insist that the Emperor is beautifully robed when onlookers can plainly see he is stark naked cannot be justified as a media strategy, even by the most inept of communications managers.
Yes, there is a reasonable defence that the Government did not want to unduly alarm or disturb the Irish public or the markets, but that defence was irreparably undermined by those in the EU who were leaking viciously against the Irish Government over the weekend.
As I pointed out in my article here last week, our recent problems with rapidly increasing bond prices started with ill-informed and frankly irresponsible comments from within the EU.
I am not accusing them of deliberately screwing us over – however – I do think the charge of hypocrisy can be levelled against some of our larger EU partners for putting their own national strategic interests ahead of the EU’s while telling us to do the opposite.  
They briefed domestic and international media without considering the implications for some of the smaller more open states. Just in the way that Germany insisted, a decade ago, on having low interest rates across the Eurozone to support its sluggish economy partly without reference to how it would fuel a property boom here and elsewhere.
Hopefully the solidarity and clarity established across the EU following the G20 will hold and our partners will start to behave as such.
Meanwhile; trust in the Government, and politics in general, is in short supply, so it should not be forfeited lightly. We have already squandered a great deal of that trust in asking the public to repeatedly believe what the banks have been telling us over the past three years – no matter how many times their changed their story.
The Government cannot restore much needed confidence by allowing trust in itself to be eroded. The clear and calming statement by the Central Bank’s Governor on Wednesday morning should have come from the Taoiseach.
The reality is that the sentiments expressed by Patrick Honohan are exactly those of the Taoiseach and the Government. The irony is that it can sometimes appear that words and messages coming from Government sound more like those of the State’s most senior civil servants than those of political leaders.
This perhaps is due to an excess of caution. That is not a capital offence in the current climate, but it is not how you rebuild lost trust and flagging confidence.
Maybe it is the freedom I gained by being involuntarily released from the bindings of office, but I can see that the public believe the Taoiseach and the Government are indifferent to the fears and the problems they face.
I know it is not the case, but it is hard to rectify when all the people see and hear is constant attack and seemingly unending bad news.
There is hope, there is a strong message the Government can send out, but it is something they need to be doing 24/7, not just when the pressure mounts.  
It is something Fianna Fáil’s Brian Ó Domhnaill is probably experiencing daily as he travels around the Donegal South West constituency. His commitment and fresh approach is precisely what we need at the heart of Government: not the cynical rhetoric of Gerry Adams and company.

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