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The Tallaght Strategy: The first confidence and supply arrangement

An Historical Study

D.R.O’Connor Lysaght

30 December 2018

The current confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is not the first of its kind in Ireland. A similar arrangement was in place between 1987 and 1989, when Fine Gael, the leading opposition party, gave its support to Charles Haughey’s  austerity programme.

The decision was announced in a speech at Tallaght by the current party leader, Alan Dukes. As Minister for Finance (‘Iron Dukes’), he had been frustrated in his attempts to impose fully fledged austerity policy against the opposition of Fine Gael’s Labour partners in Government. In the end the said Government had fallen when Labour withdrew its support. (The Labour Party leader, Dick Spring would be the only leader of his party to pull the plug on a regressive coalition, and he did it twice.) Now Fianna Fail held the largest number of Dail seats, but without an overall majority. The economic recession continued. Haughey’s gains had been made on the basis of opposition to austerity. (‘Cuts hurt the old, the sick and the poor’) Now he moved to outdo his opponents  in slashing spending. Dukes pledged Haughey his party’s critical support in doing what was necessary to reduce the public debt.

The comparison with today’s confidence and supply arrangement is not exact. It is not just that in the eighties Fianna Fail was in power and Fine Gael in opposition, positions reversed today. Nor is it that the Tallaght strategy was not negotiated with the Government, but was a unilateral initiative by Dukes.  It is that in 1987, the economic crisis continued very much in being, whereas today our bosses’ political agents tell us that it is over, but that austerity is as much part of the natural order as the rain that falls (and should be bought, preferably cash down). It is also, and partially explaining the differences, that in the eighties the two major bourgeois parties were much stronger than they are today and were able thereby to dictate overall policy more easily. At the same time, the unilateral nature of the strategy meant that it was even less stable than today’s. After several clashes, Fine Gael threatened to withdraw its support when the Government refused compensation to victims of contaminated blood transfusions. Haughey saw the possibility of winning an overall majority and called a general election. Still without his majority, he went into open coalition with the Progressive Democrats, continuing his austerity policies.

The lesson is a simple one and was known and ignored even then. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are committed to capitalism: both will do whatever is necessary to maintain private enterprise profitability as priorities. Neither should be seen as less of an evil.

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