For two years now, Exchequer returns would support the Government’s claims that a clear and sustained economic recovery is in motion. The tax take for 2014 was up 9% at the end of 2014, while last year’s tax revenue surpassed €45 billion, up from €41.3 billion in 2014. This has allowed the Government to replace hikes and stealth charges with moves such as USC reductions as a balanced budget appears on the horizon. And the Government has more scope to invest in key public services again after years of devastating cuts.
Hardly a day goes by without a major jobs announcement, with positive headlines replacing the troubling news of company closures and redundancies of recent years. More startups are springing up across the country, encouraged by the usual and new incentives. And a spate of jobs announcements from major firms like PwC, Accenture and Facebook underscores a rising sense of confidence in the Irish economic landscape.
While the debt and the deficit continue to cause concern, there is little doubt that the economy is on an upswing, and the Government can be certain that these tax figures and new jobs will resonate widely among the population. Moreover, it allows the Government to confidently claim that its plan is working, and to argue that it deserves the chance to bring it to full fruition.
However, despite this progress, troubling signs of misfortune remain all too visible in the streets, towns and cities of this country. Homelessness has reached crisis point, and shows little sign of improvement, and that situation is not helped by the return of soaring property prices and rent costs. Many rural towns remain largely shuttered and crime has never seemed so rampant, with cuts to gardaí ranks held to blame. That’s not to mention the health or water ‘services’. The Coalition itself has lurched from one crisis to the next, almost since the day the Troika left, and has often come across as inept and disconnected from reality.
While opportunity for attack from left-leaning parties are perhaps rarer than they were during the darker days of its tenure, we can be certain that they will grow louder in the weeks ahead. The Dail is set to be dissolved next week, and Fine Gael and Labour will be keen to project an image of stability, though this will be made all the more difficult by growing rumours of new coalition options and blistering rows in the media.
Nevertheless, on the likely polling day of February 26, voters will face a choice between relative stability on the national and international level, and, potentially, another round of political and economic upheaval. Taking the Exchequer figures in isolation, the case is fairly clear, though as is typical in Irish politics there is no such thing as a simple scenario and the Government is likely to have a hard time convincing the electorate to place their trust in them once more.