An Bord Snip – It’s All or Nothing

  • FF must now implement all or none of An Bord Snip Nua’s recommendations

Fianna Fáil, and the Government as a whole, now has two stark choices in front of it following the publication of the report of An Bord Snip Nua. Ministers can implement it word for word, cut for cut, job loss for job loss, or they can dump the whole thing. Any position between the two will bring them to an unbearable conflux of competing interest groups, protest and ultimately an appearance of weakness.

First cut is the deepest

Fianna Fáil’s problems haven’t started yet. The revelation of the full scale of the recommendations (whatever your thoughts as to whether they go too far, not far enough or are about right) has caused various interest groups to decry their own perceived unfair cuts.

But it will be the first backtrack that really begins the hurt. The first time that Brian Lenihan or Brian Cowen caves on some aspect of the recommendations, no matter how minor, will start a deluge of similar claims, talk of favouritism and demands that “we be heard”. “The <publicans/civil servants/farmers/quangos> are having their side taken”, another interest group will say. “Now, all we need to do is push harder and harder until the Government listens to our side.”

A road forked…

Fianna Fáil’s two options are to condemn the entire report (and therefore probably the Government finances for another year or two until they can come up with something better) or to implement it in its entirity.

The former allows individual groups to be placated, but runs the extremely dangerous risk that the public won’t wash a further abrogation of duty on behalf of the party they see as having brought Ireland to this breaking point. It also likely means that whatever cuts are made further down the line will have to be even tougher in order to make up for the time lost between now and then.

The latter means invoking the ire of every interest group in the country, and likely most voters on an individual level. However, it offers the only escape clause in the contract. By implementing the recommendations in their entirity and without so much as a comma changed, the Government can deflect some of that ire onto Colm McCarthy and his colleagues. “It was the economists what done it,” Brian Cowen will say. “Sure we had no choice.”

The middle ground between the former and the latter is a politically deadly minefield that could not be crossed by even the luckiest of sappers.

Feeling lucky, punk?

You might think that blaming the report’s authors wouldn’t get past the voting public, and it probably wouldn’t. But it would at least give the fig leaf required for the more ardent Fianna Fáilers to continue supporting and voting for the party.

It’s been Fianna Fáil’s approach to the health service for some years now. In fact, they created a situation where they have two people to blame: the HSE takes the first hit, and, if the clever voter spots that the HSE answers to the Government, sure “it was them PDs and that terrible Harney woman” who set it up and are in charge of it now. Nothing to do with Fianna Fáil, who only wish they could get their hands on Health again to sort it out. Damn those PDs. (This was most recently displayed when Micheál Martin objected to his own Government’s plans to build a private hospital on the grounds of the University Hospital in Cork.)

Proof of Concept

Any change to the recommendations, no matter how small, admits that those recommendations can be changed. And that would be fatal to the “a big boy told me to do it” plea.

Fianna Fáil got us into this economic mess. They got us into this fiscal mess. They’ve now gotten themselves into this Bord Snip mess. Will they be any more successful at getting out of that?

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