I have been canvassing for the last eight months and I have spoken to thousands of people across Waterford City and County. Feelings and emotions are mixed. Some people are angry. Some are scared. Few are optimistic. Most are apathetic. A huge segment of the population has lost faith in politics. And who would blame them. They elected a Government in 2007 that has dumped 300,000 people on the dole, collapsed the economy, made a mess of our public finances and allowed the banks to act recklessly and then bailed them out to the tune of billions.
We need a change. We need a new economy. We need fresh thinking and a fresh approach. We need to have a real national conversation about what went wrong and why. We need to discuss what kind of economy we want and the values which underpin it. I believe in building a strong economy that serves the people and all the people. Not one which protects and represents special interests. Not one which sees greedy bankers and speculators rewarded when they make massive profits by not being asked to give anything back and rewarded again if they mess things up by being bailed out. We also need an economy built on solid foundations. This means going back to our roots, using our natural resources to best effect, tapping into the skills of our people and recognising the critical importance of indigenous industry and sustainable enterprise development.
The core values which underpin our economy must also underpin society such as decency, honesty, integrity and a sense of fair play.Sadly these are values which some lost sight of during the Celtic tiger years and were absent in many corporate, banking and political board rooms. A lack of values at the top has a trickle effect and seeps into other sectors of society. One of the big lessons of the last ten years is that we all have a responsibility to each other. That goes for politicians, bankers, developers and speculators as it does for the rest of us. Corporate piracy, greed and irresponsibility are deeply anti-social and scar communities.
Just look at what happened with the banks – greed and reckless lending and speculating is being paid for by ordinary working people and those unemployed. Wages are cuts, jobs are lost, taxes for working people increased and benefits cut. Prescription charges for those with a medical card, cuts to child benefit, water charges, property taxes and social welfare cuts have either arrived or are on the way. Where are the cuts for those at the top? Where is the targeting of wealth? Where is the decency, integrity or a sense of fair play?
So it is easy to see why people are apathetic and fed up to the back teeth with politics. They are getting shafted and feel helpless. They know the main opposition parties are not going to be much better. They have no faith in Fine Gael and Enda Kenny to turn things around. They know if anything they will cut deeper and worsen the recession.
We need a new kind of politics. We need to convince people that there is an alternative. What happened in the Irish economy was not as a result of politicians in power making a few mistakes. It was because of deliberate, calculated and thought out policies which delivered for an elite and vested interests. Light touch regulation was no accident. Tax breaks and shelters for the super rich did not emerge by accident. The creating of a property bubble, the driving up of the price of land and political corruption all went hand in hand.
The task of convincing people of the need for a real alternative is not going to be easy. Renewing a faith in politics is going to be a big challenge. In the time ahead the national media will focus on the main political parties and opinion polls. They will attempt to turn the next General Election into a popularity contest based on personalities. The people must not accept this and demand a real debate. Apathy must turn into action. The next election must be about what kind of country we want to build – it has to be about a new economy, a new society and a new kind of politics. It must also be about a new Government but not more of the same. And that is up to the people. As for this Government - their represenatives should read the 1916 proclamation and what it promised and examine what they delivered. I am sure it will be red faces all round..