We know where Sinn Féin stands on economics, but what is the party's policy on looting? For instance, would it advocate shooting looters on sight? Or would it take a more tolerant line on those who might forage for food?
The party's policy on looting is relevant because were the state to be governed according to Sinn Féin's economic policy, there would inevitably be a breakdown of law and order. Telling the EU/IMF to take a hike would ensure there was no money to pay public servants, and from there, chaos would ensue. Were this scenario to unfold, the first port of call to restore order would be, well, our nearest neighbour's armed forces.
Among the party's other policies – which translate as promises at election time – is the proposal to impose a 1% tax on assets in excess of €1m. The policy may well be sound in theory, but the Shinners calculate that it would yield €1bn in revenue. In other words, there is €100bn in assets out there, waiting to be taxed. Where? Lead us to this promised land of plenty.
Sinn Féin's economic policy would herald Armageddon for the state, but thankfully, for both us and the Shinners, it will never be implemented. The party may significantly increase its vote in the next election, but it won't be burdened with the task of governing in a time of austerity.
Therefore, it can promise what it likes, ideally peppering pledges with terms like "eat the rich", "close Anglo Irish Bank" and "renegotiate the deal". This will tap into the justifiable anger out there, and may well translate into votes. Sinn Féin, like many others, will promise you a miracle.
And promises are what we will be bombarded with over the next month in the run-up to the general election. Nothing brings out the lying, cheating, two- faced side of politicians like election promises.
Last time around, all the political parties raised onto a higher plane the spectre of empty promises. The electorate was treated to an auction. All promises were based on the economy growing at an average rate of around 4.5% for the following three years. (In 2009, it contracted by 10%.) This gave room to promise something for everybody in the audience.
Little caveats were thrown in to cover asses, such as Pat Rabbitte's timid warning at his party's 2007 conference. "Labour in government would take two percentage points off the lower income tax rate and invest heavily in schools and the health services. But if the resources are suddenly not available, well then the public will just have to wait."
At the Fianna Fáil conference that year, the greatest sugar daddy of them all, Bertie Ahern, declared: "Nobody can do anything in health, anything in education, or anything in taxes unless we keep the economy strong."
Yet, despite these weasel words of caution, everybody went on to promise miracles.
Fianna Fáil pledged €4bn in tax cuts and to raise the old-age pension to €300. Fine Gael pledged an early education supplement of €2,500 per child. Labour professed its conversion to the tax-cutting agenda by offering to shave two cents off the standard rate. Sinn Féin promised revenge for Skibbereen.
The only outfit to decline an invitation to join this mile-high club was the Green Party. Give or take the odd whacky wobble, its promises were more rooted in reality. The Greens were expected to garner up to a dozen seats, but returned with just half that amount. Whether or not the party's relative failure was connected with its lack of imaginative electoral promises is difficult to gauge.
The carry-on was best summed up by economic pundit Eddie Hobbs, who was asked in this newspaper to evaluate the pledges being made. "The whole thing is bullshit really from an economic point of view," Hobbs said. "All the manifestos and promises are based on a growth rate of 4%, and that is all they are, promises. We shouldn't forget that."
Now that we live in more straitened times, where every utterance of politicians is regarded with suspicion, hope may spring that the promises will be more realistic. Not a chance.
This time around, however, the promises will come in a number of different guises. First of all, we will have the angry promises, as espoused by the Shinners and others like the United Left Alliance. These amount to anything designed to tap into the anger being felt over the state we're in. The substance of the promise is irrelevant. All that matters is the sentiment.
Undoubtedly, seats will be harvested on the back of these promises, and in the bigger picture it's no bad thing that the next Dáil will have a substantial minority opposed to the broad economic consensus of the larger parties. But the promises are for the birds.
Fianna Fáil, in the forthcoming election, will be the standard bearer for irrelevant promises. It doesn't matter what it offers. They can promise a rose garden for everybody in the country. Nobody is listening. The party's vote will be almost entirely a plebiscite on what the electorate thinks of Fianna Fáil's performance in government, over not just the last three years, but the last decade.
Another unique feature of the coming election is the redundant promise, one that has been broken even before the poll takes place. Minister for the Environment John Gormley recently sent out letters to his constituents assuring them that the incinerator planned for Poolbeg "cannot go ahead" because of waste levies he was going to introduce. Events conspired against Gormley and now the proposed legislation and his promise has gone up in smoke.
The only promises that really, really matter this time out are those being offered by Fine Gael and Labour. The odds of the two parties forming the next government are being quoted by Paddy Power at 20/1 on. As a contest between parties, it's all over bar the shouting. All that is at play is the relative strengths of this pair, and whether Gerry Adams or Micheál Martin will lead the opposition.
So we are in unique promises territory. We more or less know who will be in government. Once ensconced in the seat of power, the scope for handing out goodies is severely constrained. Governance must be conducted within parameters set out by the IMF/EU moneylenders. Cynicism about politics is at an all-time high.
In such circumstances, it might be reasonable to expect the prospective coalition parties to offer promises which are rooted in prevailing realities. The omens are not good.
Last week, before the campaign proper has even got under way, we have a flavour of what to expect. Fine Gael's environment spokesman Phil Hogan reacted to Gormley's redundant promise by declaring that his party "has always been against incineration". The implicit promise is that the controversial facility will not get built under Fine Gael's watch.
The Blueshirts are hoping to pick up two seats in Dublin South-East, which includes Poolbeg. The country was opened up to the prospect of incineration in a 1996 waste management act which was introduced by the Fine Gael-led government. Big Phil's promise is already looking dodgy.
On Tuesday evening, on RTÉ Radio's Late Debate programme, FG candidate and banking expert Peter Matthews issued his shining promise. If he gets elected in Dublin South, he will be part of a nine-member team which will renegotiate the IMF deal. (Nine of them! Boy, is Mr Chopra going to be intimidated by that firepower.) Peter told listeners that he and the team could shave €60bn off the banking debt of €130bn. Sixty goddamn billion. Peter Matthews doesn't wear Superman pyjamas, but he sure deserves a pair. (Memo to FG handlers: Rein him in, lads. For the love of God, rein him in.)
Over on Newstalk, Eamon Gilmore was setting out his stall on Wednesday's breakfast show. Under Labour, there will be no property tax on the family home, he said. Taxes for second and third homes would be increased, which is socially just, but negligible in contributing revenue.
The issue of a property tax is set to be one of the biggest promises in the election. Such a tax is dreaded by the electorate, but deemed as necessary across the political spectrum from Ictu to right- wing economists.
The government's four-year plan includes provision for a "site value tax", which is a property tax for slow learners. "This tax is estimated to apply to 1.8 million households and zoned land that would equate to an estimated further 700,000 homes," the plan reads. The total yield for the tax is projected to be €530m by 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding with the EU/IMF moneylenders also includes a provision for a property tax.
Yet Gilmore wants us to believe that Labour will not countenance such a tax. So far, Fine Gael is of the same view. Despite all the evidence before our eyes, we are being told that there will be no property tax introduced during the next Dáil. And that's a promise.
There have been calls for politicians to pay heed to these perilous times and deal with harsh reality on the hustings. So far, the calls have fallen on deaf ears.
"I think the politics of promises is over," Gilmore told Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show last November. Seeing, hearing and evaluating will be believing.
Keeping promises can be worse than breaking them
Sometimes, keeping a promise can be worse than breaking one. The 1977 general election is regarded as the first of the modern era in which the sum of promises added up to an auction.
Fianna Fáil, led by Jack Lynch, won a majority of 20 seats after an election campaign designed along the lines of presidential campaigns in the USA. The headline pledges from Fianna Fáil were to "abolish domestic rates", and road tax for vehicles under 16 horsepower.
After the election, rates were duly abolished. The system of paying rates had been grossly unfair to those with smaller homes, but abolishing the whole system meant that local authorities were robbed of an income source. Further pressure was brought to bear on central funds, as the tax base was narrowed. Thereafter, Ireland became one of the only countries in western Europe to levy no taxes on domestic properties.
In 2002, Fine Gael, the party of fiscal rectitude, promised to compensate shareholders in Eircom who had lost money following the privatisation of the state telecoms body.
The Eircom privatisation had been a disaster and up to 500,000 small shareholders were nursing losses. Fine Gael said it would provide tax credit for the shareholders, at a cost of €80m to the exchequer. The party also offered to compensate taxi drivers who had bought plates at inflated prices.
Even by the low standards of Irish election promises, this really took the biscuit. As it turned out, Fine Gael suffered the worst electoral disaster in its history in 2002.
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