A legacy of broken promises

An audit by Village on the key promises made by the government parties prior to the last election shows that at least 20 major promises have been broken or are being broken. By Hilary Curley and Emma Browne


1. Hospital beds

Promise: Increase the number of hospital beds by 650 by the end of 2002


The target was not met by the end of 2002.


2. Accident & Emergency

Promise: Improve Accident & Emergency services


An average of 249 patients were treated on trolleys during the first three months of this year. This situation is slightly better than in 2005 when an average of 291 patients were treated on trolleys during the months of February, March and April 2005. However the situation is much worse than when the promise was made in 2002. On 19 February 2002, 25 patients were treated on hospitals trolleys in Beaumont Hospital A&E department. On the same day this year, there were 39 patients treated on trolleys in Beaumont. In the Mater Hospital on the same date in 2002, there were no beds available for 17 patients in the A&E department. The figure in 2007 was 8. Naas Hospital in 2002 had to treat 15 patients on trolleys. Three years later, the figure had risen to18.


3. Hospital waiting lists

Promise: Permanently end hospital waiting lists by the end of 2004


Fianna Fáil promised in 2002 to “Permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years through a combination of bed capacity, primary care, secondary care and targeted reform initiatives”. The Progressive Democrats promised: “We will make the necessary reforms to guarantee that patients will receive their hospital treatment within three months of their out-patient appointment.”

It is estimated that around 29,000 patients could be on hospital waiting lists across the state. This figure has been extrapolated from waiting-list figures for 19 hospitals by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), published last year.

It said there were 11,250 patients “actively” waiting for surgery, 5,442 patients waiting for surgery who were scheduled to have their operations within three months, and 1,258 patients waiting for surgery who were “not currently ready or available” for it at the 19 hospitals.


4. Dublin airport

Promise: Deal with capacity problem at airport by end of 2003 by building a new pier


Fianna Fáil promised Pier D, the Progressive Democrats promised “the development of new independent terminals at Dublin Airport, funded entirely by the private sector”.

At the moment, Pier D consists of a mile of prefabs. Construction has begun and is due to be finished by the end of the year. However it will only temporarily help with capacity problems at the airport. An oral hearing has just begun into a new terminal to be built at the airport.


5. Metro line to Dublin airport

Promise: Develop a metro line to Dublin airport by 2007


Fianna Fáil promised that “particular priority will be given to the development of an early [metro] link to Dublin airport”.

Under the programme for government the metro project was to be developed by 2007. The planning of it is now at an early stage and a route has not even been selected. Once construction starts it is going to take five years to build.


6. Roads

Promise: Implement the National Roads Programme by 2006


Fianna Fáil specifically promised delivery by 2006. The roads programme is now running seven years late and the cost of the programme, which was to be €5.6bn, will certainly be over €17bn (according to the Comptroller and Auditor General) and, very likely, far higher.


7. School building

Promise: All schools will attain modern standards by 2007


Fianna Fáil said: “We will build on the unprecedented investment which we have made in school buildings, to ensure that every school attains modern standards within the next five years.” The Progressive Democrats said: “We will ensure that every primary school in the country reaches and is maintained at an acceptable explicit national standard, within three years [ie by the middle of 2005].”

This did not happen. Many schools are still being accomodated in pre-fabs. And although a lot of money has been promised in the school building programme, construction progress has been slow.


8. Class sizes

Promise: Reduce class size for children under nine within five years


Fianna Fáil promised: “We will ensure that the average size of classes for children under nine will be below the international best-practice guideline of 20:1.” The Programme for government reiterated this. The average class size is 24 for primary schools, the second highest in the EU (pre-accession states).


9. Garda numbers

Promise: Increase An Garda Síochána by 2,000 extra gardaí


Nothing at all was done to meet this commitment for over two years. Then in October 2004, the government agreed (having promised in May 2002) to increase the strength of the force from 12,309 to 14,000 (note: 309 fewer than was promised) on a phased basis over the following three years. Additional recruitment commenced in February 2005 with the additional intake of over 125 recruits (there is a fresh intake four times a year). On the most favourable turnout, it will take seven years from February 2005 for the target of an additional 2,000 officers to be achieved. That is February 2012, five years after this government is expected to go out of office.

On the Garda website, it is stated unambiguously: “Basic training [to become a member of An Garda Síochána] is divided into five phases and lasts a total of three years.” However, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform insists that recruits become “fully-fledged” members of An Garda Síochána after two years, ie at a stage where they have yet to compete one-third of the “basic training” (the press spokesperson was relying on a reply to what Michael McDowell said in answer to a Parliamentary Question). The significance of this (aside from what it says about An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform) is that they are able to maintain that targets a year before it actually happens.


10. Morris tribunal

Promise: Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised “urgent” action on the recommendations on Garda reform of the Morris Tribunal


Michael McDowell promised on 5 August 2004 that “action must be taken to address the findings” of the Morris tribunal report. This action, he said, must address not just the findings of specific wrongdoing “but must also address the systematic failings that permitted that individual wrongdoing to continue unchecked and to damage the force”.

Nothing has happened. None of the key recommendations have been implemented.


11. Housing

Promise: Expand the various social-housing programmes to meet the housing needs of 15,000 houses per annum


Fianna Fáil promised “further expansion of the various social-housing programmes, so that we reach a target of meeting the housing needs of 15,000 households per annum”. The Progressive Democrats promised: “We will ensure that the overall social-housing output for 2002-2007 will meet the needs of 100,000 households.”

This objective is way off target. A total of 7,191 social and affordable housing units were provided in 2003 across all the various schemes and programmes. In 2005, the latest year for which total figures are available, 13,100 social and affordable housing units were provided.


12. Voluntary housing

Promise: To assist the voluntary housing sector to meet the target of 4,000 accommodation units per annum


In 2002 only 1,360 accommodation units were built or acquired by the voluntary sector. In 2003 the number was 1,617, and in 2005 it was 1,350.


13. Taxation

Promise: Ensure over the five years from mid-2002 that 80 per cent of all earners pay tax only at the standard rate BROKEN In 2005, 32 per cent of all earners were paying tax at the standard rate.


14. Poverty

Promise: To reduce “consistent poverty” to below 2 per cent


Fianna Fáil promised: “We will work to effectively eliminate poverty with a minimum target of reducing it to below 2 per cent.” The most recent data from the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions in Ireland reveals that in 2004, 6.8 per cent of the Irish population were living in “consistent poverty” in 2004 and no radical measures have been taken since then to reduce the level at all, let alone reach the government's own target of reducing it to a “minimum” of 2 per cent.


15. Overseas development aid

Promise: To increase overseas development aid (ODA) to the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2007


The government has announced it is reneging on this promise, having canvassed and won support for Ireland's candidature for a place on the Security Council in 2002 on the basis of this commitment. The allocation of €813m in 2007 accounted for 0.5% of GNP. The target date for reaching the 0.7 per cent level has been deferred to 2012.


16. Ethics in public office

Promise: To review ethics in public office measures and, where necessary, improve them


Fianna Fáil promised: “Within two years, Fianna Fáil will initiate a wide-ranging review of both the range of ethics measures passed in this last 28th Dáil, as well as the Ethics in Public Office Act (1995). We will examine how well these measures are working in practice, at both national and local level, and, where it is necessary, improve on them.”

This was a key commitment to deflect criticisms of Fianna Fáil arising from the revelations of the Flood and Moriarty tribunals since the previous general election in 1997. No wide-ranging review has taken place.

Recently the government introduced a bill proposing to treble the amount of money that can be donated to a politician before he has to declare it. As well, representations by the Standards in Public Office Commission to have their powers widened and strengthened have consistently been rejected.


17. Proceeds of corruption act

Promise: To introduce a Proceeds of Corruption Act to further target white-collar crime and corruption in both public and private sections


This has not been done. The government maintains that measures which were to be considered under this bill have been incorporated into the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2005.


18. Corruption

Promise: To eliminate any potential financial influence on decision-making and to prevent corruption


The cap on donations to political parties has been increased since 2002.


19. Access to information

Promise: allow people access to publicly held information under the Freedom of Information Act


Fianna Fáil promised: to recognise the “central importance of the Freedom of Information Act in ensuring transparent and accountable public administration.

The Freedom of Information Act was amended to restrict access to State documents and charges were introduced for access, thereby further inhibiting public access to those documents. Fees were introduced and Freedom of Information applications dropped dramatically after their introduction. In 2005 there were 1,000 requests made by journalists last year, compared to over 3,000 in 2001.


20. Protect the environment

Promise: to makes sure that discharges of untreated sewage from cities and towns will cease by 2003


A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that only one in five waste treatment plants in small towns was treating sewage to adequate standards. Less than 40 per cent of medium-sized facilities complied with minimum standards. It also found that there were inadequate treatment facilities in 30 large towns, cities and suburbs.