As the election enters its final straight Fine Gael is on course to lead the next Government appears to be the party with the momentum and some observers have speculated about the possibility of a single party FG government. Therefore it is vitally important that people question their FG candidates in some detail over the next week.
Insider will begin with government formation. One of the worst aspects of this economic crisis is the scale of political instability.
Insider urges people to question their FG candidates on this matter, in particular the likely tension between FG backbenchers and Independent TDs should FG need them to make up the next administration.
Insider can instance, in the very constituency of Galway West, a potential prototype of this instability manifesting itself. In the event of Noel Grealish and Fidelma Healy-Eames being elected, and Dep Grealish striking a deal with a FG government, you do not need to have an over-active imagination to envisage the two of them continuously trying to outfox each other when contentious decisions are to be voted on.
A similar outcome may emerge in Galway East if Paul Connaughton jnr and Independent Sean Canney are elected. Such instability would be a continuation of what we have endured to date with Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae.
FG candidates should be asked whether they would support such an outcome and if so to explain how the instability would be managed away.
Insider sees a problems in the area of political reform, which has become a key campaign issue if Independents hold the balance of power.
Independents have more reason than most to fear political reform along the lines being proposed by the major parties. It has been widely asserted - and Insider would agree - that our political system has played a key role in our recent economic destruction and it is simply unacceptable that reforms would be stalled. FG candidates should be asked to address this. Insider would also urge people to ask FG candidates how they propose to address the following:
How they can eradicate the trend of ministers being appointed based on considerations of geography?
This always pushes ability down the list of criteria for appointment and it encourages ministers to act as representatives of their constituencies. Insider feels that with such a prevailing mindset, it is impossible for any government to control spending and balance the budget. As a result the pain may not be spread evenly in the next few years, and when Ireland recovers the benefits will not be shared equally. Worse we may repeat the recklessness of the Celtic Tiger period
How will they break the link between the national and the parochial?
The abolition of the dual mandate was designed to achieve this but it was only the first step. All parties report that people are showing a greater interest in national issues in this campaign. This is welcome but the next government must create an environment where local politicians are empowered to handle local issues and national politicians can focus on the bigger picture
Will there be reform of the senior ranks of the civil service, who hold great influence in Government decision-making and who are not accountable to the people?
Will FG work with and take on board the ideas of all parties, both Government and opposition, when making its final set of proposals in Government? No party has a monopoly on knowledge as FG is fond of reminding us and some of the other parties have proposed some interesting reforms that should be considered.
Fine Gael’s stance on the Irish language cannot be avoided in the west of Ireland, particularly in Galway West. This constituency has the largest numbers of Irish speakers and it is of economic and cultural importance to them.
FG must be asked to explain its policy on ending compulsory Irish for the Leaving Cert. It must also be asked to explain its plans for industrial policy in the Gaeltacht; for example: Where does FG stand on the proposals of ‘An Bord Snip Nua’ to abolish Údarás na Gaeltachta?
Economic matters are at the heart of this campaign. Leaving aside the banks for a moment the key questions that FG should be asked are:
Is the party being honest with people when it says it will not impose any further tax hikes?
The clips of George Bush at the 1988 Republican Party convention imploring people to “Read my lips: no new taxes” has been played ad nauseam over the years. Bush simply was not in a position to keep this pledge. FG should beware of something similar happening. Plus what does FG mean by ‘no more tax hikes’? Do water charges and property taxes count?
Will FG definitely reverse the minimum wage cut as the party has repeatedly claimed since the current Government cut it?
How does FG plan to reform the social welfare system?
Your questions to FG candidates should also involve job creation, not to mention the appalling vista of emigration returning to haunt us - a particularly sore point in the west of Ireland
Banking Policy is an area that has been well discussed at this stage. It is a highly technical area but the key questions are well known:
How do we handle debts to bondholders in the most advantageous way for the country?
What do we do with Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide and what are the plans for AIB and Bank of Ireland?
What vision does FG have for an Irish banking sector that will serve business and consumers once this crisis has passed?
In terms of social policy, FG candidates should be asked: How do you propose to tackle the appalling problem of illiteracy?
Will Fine Gael protect vulnerable schoolchildren from the worst effects of the inevitable cuts? What about the whole area of third level funding?
On a more general global level Insider will say that the name of Ireland has been disgraced by recent events. The country must restore its image and regain its confidence and a good underlying goal by the next government would be to restore Ireland to a position where it can credibly play a role in world affairs by 2016. That should be at the back of voters’ minds as they question their FG candidates.