THE WEEK IN POLITICS
We need a general election now like we need a hole in the head. A general election would certainly put an end to Fianna Fáil’s long years in power. It would almost certainly provide us with a new Fine Gael/Labour coalition and probably with Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.
So what? The new Government would proceed to implement basically the same policies and strategies pursued by Fianna Fáil and the Greens over the past two years or so. The only difference would be a change in personalities.
A general election now would cause a lot of uncertainty in the markets during the course of the election itself and again afterwards while Fine Gael and Labour hammered out an agreed programme for government between them.
Of course, we are going to have a general election some time in the near future. Nobody expects the current Dáil to run its full course, which would bring us up to June 2012. There are so many issues that could cause the present coalition to fall and they have so many doubtful supporters in the House, which could lead to a general election at any time.
My guess is that they may struggle on to the end of the year and get the Budget through but may fall on the Finance Bill next spring – that is on the details of the Budget proposals. But that’s only a guess. The Government could as easily fall this week, next week or the week after. I cannot see it lasting very long after the three by-elections, which Fianna Fáil have little or no chance of winning.
While some recent opinion polls have contradicted each other about the level of support there is out there for Labour and Fine Gael, they are fairly consistent in predicting that Fianna Fáil is facing its heaviest defeat in more than 80 years.
All the indications are that Fianna Fáil will lose between 20 and 30 seats and return to the next Dáil with a miserable 40 seats or so.
We can also predict that between them Fine Gael and Labour will have a whopping overall majority – perhaps more than 100 seats between them.
That should be a satisfactory outcome for the country. A government with a strong overall majority should be in a position to implement the tough measures that need to be taken without having to look over their shoulders all the time and do deals with local TDs in order to keep them on side, as the present Government has to do.
However, the damage that will be done to our reputation during the election campaign, as the various parties squabble over what needs to be done, could be very hard to repair. Remember, the coming general election will attract more international attention on this little island than ever happened before. I fear that that attention will not be very positive.
So you may say that the choice is between the present lame-duck coalition and a new Fine Gael/Labour coalition elected after a very divisive general election.
My argument is that there is a third choice and that is a national Government made up of the brightest and best in the Dáil. I believe it is the only solution to our present difficulties and more and more politicians are coming around to that idea but they are not the politicians who can call the shots.
The problem with politicians in general, however, is that they are more concerned about themselves and their own seats than they are about the country.
Could we possibly get them to agree on a leader who would be respected and would inspire confidence? Brian Cowen doesn’t have it and he really blew his chances with his disastrous Morning Ireland interview over two weeks’ ago. Enda Kenny doesn’t have it either and never will.
Either Brian Lenihan or Eamon Gilmore might fit the bill. However, there are question marks still over Brian Leniihan’s health and Gilmore is only the leader of a small party compared to the other two.
But if there is a will there is a way. If the parties could only put aside party and personal interests until the crisis is over and put the interests of the counry first, I believe that all our problems could be solved.
National solidarity such as existed in Britain during the Second World War is what is needed in Ireland now.
Actually, Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton hit the nail firmly on the head this week when she said that what was needed was “constructive political engagement” rather than the petty squabbling that goes on between the various political parties. She said the Opposition should be more constructive and the Government should consult more with the Opposition.
But Lucinda Creighton will not be thanked by her own party, which is more interested in play-acting than in constructive political debate. We saw that this week with the decision to withdraw from the traditional “pairing” arrangement with the Government. But then the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan should have consulted with the Opposition parties before absenting herself from the Dail to go to the US on a job-seeking mission. The Labour Party was the only party to strike the right note on this issue.
The old Fine Gael slogan used to be Ní Neart go Cur le Chéile. In other words, “Unity is Strength”. I suppose it would be too much to expect to see that slogan implemented in Irish politics today.