Once you have already lost your faith in politicians, it is very rare that anything still surprises you. Unfortunately, such a surprise was also absent in Ireland’s last election, despite international headlines saying otherwise. Our soon to be Prime Minister Leo Varadkar – he still needs to be appointed by the President Michael Higgins upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (Ireland’s parliament equivalent) – is gay and the son of an Indian doctor. While this might sound progressive, he is not in any sense of the word. Instead of tackling Irish ongoing issues (current rises on property prices, amendments to the Constitution, alcohol prohibitions, the collusion between the state and the Catholic Church) he chooses to call for tax hikes and more public spending.
Irish history is filled with fights against power, distrust in sovereignty (mainly independence from the UK, since they are happy under Brussels’ rules) and, at the same time, a blind faith in religion (being homosexual was considered a crime until 1993). Yet, Irish people came a long way in a short timespan, and this can explain why no one really bat an eye at Leo’s sexual orientation on the election day or even before. But they did question his “right-wing” orientation and the fact he’s a member of the “superior class”.
Leo’s party, Fine Gael, is the least left-oriented one with current representatives in parliament and the biggest one in members across the country, which explains why he is in line to be the next Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Since 1932, Ireland’s two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – the Republican Party, have been alternating the taoiseach position and now in order to secure support of the majority within his party and the Dáil, Leo intends to nominate his election adversary, Simon Coveney, as his Tánaiste (Deputy PM). There hasn’t been any real opposition in any election so far, just different shades of statism, yet Irish people constantly fail to accept this.
Because Ireland never had a right-wing rulership, no one knows what it means to be conservative, or at least nothing that resembles UK or even US standards. My guess it that you just need to be pro-life or to be born in a wealthy family to be qualified as a ‘conservative’ in Ireland. Therefore, anything that appears to question the middle class status-quo is, in reality, Thatcherite. However, anyone who dares to even consider Leo’s leadership fiscally conservative is dead wrong.
Leo’s “Taking Ireland Forward” plan will not take Ireland forward because the most significant way to foster prosperity in a country is by lowering taxes (for both local taxpayers and foreign investors) and freeing the market by allowing real competition. Sadly, Leo Varadkar isn’t committed to any of these. He goes even further and proposes to double the government budget for arts, culture and sport over the next seven years. Here are some of his worst ideas:
It’s not enough the desire to restore free education (nothing was said about the baptism barrier – baptized children get preferable admission in state-funded schools, which is problematic per se), one needs to provide school books/tablets to all children, regardless of how much it will cost to the population and the extra cost of instructing all teachers across the country on how to use new technologies in classrooms. Many rural areas in Ireland still lack internet connection for the tablets to work on their full potential, but fear no more, Leo thought about it too.
Infrastructure, Transport and Housing
The new Prime Minister has separate frameworks to solve urban and rural areas’ infrastructure problems, but they both involve the creation of funds. Those would include support to broadband provision, improvements to public parks and amenities, and investment in regional and local roads (because we know the government holds the key to this magic piece of engineering project). Such roads will share space with cycleways (the nightmare of every driver in Dublin), and public and rural transport will receive subsidies. Unfortunately he barely tackles any problems concerning the housing crisis, and instead of proposing less government intervention, he will continue to implement Rebuilding Ireland, which is an action plan developed by the government for addressing the problem of lack of homes and the excess of homelessness. Its estimate cost for the taxpayer is set to be around €5.6 billion to be used in accelerating social housing, building more homes, improving the rental sector and utilizing existing housing.
Welfare and Employment
One of the four new additions he wants to make to Fine Gael’s agenda is that of “compassion” because he believes it is the responsibility of the state to offer social guarantees (there is even space for financial support to families who need to avail of fertility treatment). He goes further and proclaims one way of ensuring the quality of employment is done by enhancing employee’s rights: as technology transforms markets, new regulations to “protect” workers must also evolve. Meaning: the state must secure your job by making automation more difficult.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that he got it all wrong because he actually didn’t. Leo looks forward to capitalise on the opportunities presented by further developments of Brexit (reallocation of European agencies, financial services and industries), he plans to reduce both the present high marginal rates of income tax and the taxes on corporate profits, and he will guarantee the invisibility of the border (between Ireland and Northern Ireland) by honoring the Good Friday Agreement. He also seeks a free trade agreement between the EU and the UK.
It’s interesting to see a politician specify how personal liberty, free trade and fewer borders are of vital importance, but then very often act in opposition to his beliefs. Leo better pray for rainbows in order to have enough gold to subside his policies, otherwise we all will have to look out for greener fields across the pond.
Beatriz Gietner is a physicist currently doing her Master’s in Science Education at Trinity College Dublin.