General Election 2016 – Issues, Implications and Predictions

Posted on: 17 February 2016

Will 2016 be the year of the female candidate? Should we really trust opinion polls? Are political parties engaging in auction politics? Is a single-tier health service now out of reach? Experts from Trinity College Dublin shared their judgements on the choices facing the Irish electorate and what is likely to happen on polling day at a public event on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.

Thanks to the introduction of the gender quota the number of women serving in the next Dáil will likely increase and this will have an effect on how the 32nd Dáil operates, according to Professor Gail McElroy, Professor in Political Science, Trinity, who is among speakers at the  event entitled General Election 2016 – Issues, Implications and Predictions, organised by the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy.

Female politicians are frequently more responsive to their constituents, more legislatively innovative, better at working cross-party and, on average, harder working, according to Prof McElroy. Research has also shown that in countries where quotas have been introduced it has been found that the overall quality of representatives, male and female, increases, she added.

“While new to Irish elections this year, gender quotas are commonplace throughout the European Union; they are applied, in one form or another, in 24 of our fellow member states.  It is, then, perhaps no surprise to learn that Ireland currently elects fewer women to its lower house than any other West European country. Indeed, within the EU, only Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and Romania currently have fewer women in their parliaments.”

“Given we rank very favourably in terms of the Global Gender Gap – 5th of 145 countries in the 2015 index – this continued under-representation of women in political life is puzzling.  It is difficult for women to run for office everywhere, why it is so much more difficult in Ireland is an enigma. Does the extra element of intra-party competition and the compulsory door to door campaigning deter women? The legislative quota being introduced this year goes part of the way to addressing these issues.”

“Although the quota is applied at the candidate level, we can reasonably expect the number of women who will serve in the 32nd Dáil to increase, perhaps quite significantly. While we already know that Irish voters do not vote for candidates because of their gender, it is also the case that they do not discriminate against women when it comes to casting a ballot; they are gender blind.”

Speakers Dr Michael King, Prof Gail McElroy, Prof Richard Layte, Prof Michael Marsh and event chair Ed Mulhall

Also speaking at the event, was Michael King, Assistant Professor of Economics, who provided an analysis of the economic pledges contained in the political parties’ manifestos.

“With the effects of the financial crisis still resonating through the finances of many households across Ireland and unemployment at 14% as recently as 38 months ago, it remains a surprise that the main political parties have not placed economic prudence at the core of their election manifestos. Buoyant public finances have instead encouraged the main parties to provide detailed outlines on how expected additional resources will be spent – consumed by public services or allocated for tax cuts.”

“At the same time, the list of risks to the Irish economy is growing. Global market weaknesses, spurred by any combination of disappointing external demand, public or corporate over-indebtedness, EU political instability or global issues such as migration or security, represents a significant risk to the Irish economy. These risks are reflected in the position of the Irish Fiscal Council, which stated in its November report that there was a non-trivial 10% chance of less than 1% growth in real GDP in 2016.”

“The main political parties have calculated that promising prudent fiscal policy and the necessary institutional reform required to insulate Ireland from future crises will not win votes. However, there is a reason to believe that an opportunity to attract voters most interested in economic competence and sustainability. Political gains may be possible for the party that presents a coherent plan for making sure the Irish economy does not experience a similar fate again. It is prudent for a household to save for the future and it is prudent for Ireland to save for future instability and the ageing of the population.”

Michael Marsh, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, provided an up-to-date analysis on what the polls are saying about party support at this point in the campaign and also give his judgement on how best to make sense of the often contrasting information delivered by successive polls.

“As of now the Government is short of what it needs to be realistically optimistic about re-election, but more polls over the next week may change that. While polls have not proved to be exactly right in the past, even on average, they have usually been close, and are certainly be a much better predictor than any alternative. There is no reason to expect the scale of error that we saw in the UK in 2015.”

Richard Layte, Professor of Sociology, focused on the thorny issue of universal access to free healthcare, which was a key element of the current Government’s “programme for government”. He assessed whether the end to ‘Universal Health Insurance’ means the end of the Government’s vision for a single tier health service providing care to all irrespective of means.

“The ‘programme for government’ for the Fine Gael/Labour coalition that entered power in February 2011 contained a commitment to the availability of health care to all, free at the point of delivery with no differentiation between public and private patients. The Government promised a new financing mechanism would be developed based on ‘universal health insurance’ through which all Irish citizens (or the Government on their behalf if they couldn’t afford to) would prospectively pay for their health care before they needed it. No more would public patients die while they wanted for treatment whilst private patients skipped to the front of the queue. Unfortunately, a recent and much anticipated ESRI report put the final nail in the coffin of the current plan as too costly and unworkable.”

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