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Economic recovery still the only yardstick by which voters measure Coalition success

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It might have been Bill Clinton who made the phrase famous – but it was his mercurial strategist James Carville who thought it up. “It’s the economy, stupid” was so powerful a catchphrase that it propelled the Governor of Arkansas into the White House.

Since then the four words have been ransacked and pillaged to death by journalists, commentators, pundits and by politicians. It doesn’t make them any less true.

This Government – or its major party at least – will be returned to power if the economy gathers sufficient momentum between now and Easter 1916.

People vote with their pockets. When it comes to general elections, the citizen tends to vote for the party it trusts most with handling the economy, securing the future, and not squandering taxpayers’ money.

Which brings us to the two arguments surrounding the announcement by the Government last week that it was going to exit the bailout without seeking a contingency credit line from the new EU bailout fund.

There is a political argument and an economic one – they are not mutually exclusive but they can be dealt with separately.

The first argument has been economic and it’s been a kind of academic one. The Government will stand on its own two feet, without the steadying hand of the Troika, because the National Treasury Management Agency has some €24 billion in reserve.

The reason it has that kind of cash in the kitty is because it borrowed it, at market rates, somewhere north of the current rate of 3.5 per cent for ten-year bonds.

So that borrowed money has come at a cost – an extra €1 billion a year. It could be that the total borrowing requirements between now and the end of 2016 could be €52 billion – that’s €34 billion to cover repayments and interests on loans and a further €18 billion to cover the gap between what the State spends each year and the revenue it takes in through taxes, charges and excises. It would mean the State would have to borrow an additional €30bn at a rate of 3.5 per cent.

If the Government had availed of the fall-back funding mechanism – an insurance policy in a sense where it doesn’t have to draw down the emergency funding unless things get very ropey – the interest rate available would have been less, at around three per cent.

And even though there is small print and terms and conditions apply, it would have meant the cost for the Government – and the taxpayer – might have been considerably less.

There was no shame in it, said Fianna Fáil. It didn’t mean another bailout package, they said – but, politically, that’s precisely what it would have meant.

Sinn Féin has been describing the contingency fund for months as a “second bailout”. Technically, the party was not correct in that portrayal but it was not incorrect fully either.

In any way, no matter how the Government would have presented it it would have been hard for it to parry the accusations that far from taking the country out of economic bondage, it was willingly taking us all in for a second spin on the merry-go-round.

And so the Government’s argument was grounded on the second consideration, which was a wholly political one. Sure, it might prove to be more expensive to exit with a ‘clean break’ but politically, the decision (as the credit card advert goes) is priceless.

I was a guest on Vincent Browne’s programme the other night and he kept on returning to the theme that it would have been cheaper for us to stay in a quasi programme.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

City’s cycling plans must get out of the slow lane

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Days like this...the Galway Community Cycle making its way along Grattan Road.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

From about the age of ten I began cycling to school every day, from Glenard into Sea Road – not alone in and out in the morning and afternoon, but also home and back at lunch-time – because everybody had dinner in the middle of the day in the 1980s.

The concept of separate facilities for cycling back then were as alien as having parking for spaceships. Traffic was much lighter though; only a third, maybe a quarter, of the cars on the road today.

I can remember accidents involving bikes – fatal and serious ones – during my youth. I’d say up to half the pupils in my school cycled every day.

That picture has changed over the years. The Galway Transport Strategy quotes a figure from the 2011 Census which says that five per cent of people cycle to work, school or college.

The city is compact and relatively small. The strategy recommends “high quality facilities for walking and cycling” to encourage more people to walk and cycle to school, to work, to the shops, or for leisure.

So what’s happened in the 30 years since I left Galway?

Traffic volumes have increased and the number of people using bikes for the daily commute has decreased. There are some bicycle lanes in the city but the percentage is very small compared to other Irish cities.

I spent a few hours cycling around Galway last week and wrote a piece on it for The Irish Times. I might have cycled in and out to school when I was a kid but I would not put my eleven-year-old daughter on a bike in Galway. It’s just not safe enough.

I put in a number of queries to Galway City Council last week and they told me there was a total of 20.45 kilometres in the city – that excludes off-road and park cycle tracks such as NUIG.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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