Sunday 17 December 2017

A General Election is the only way we'll sort out this mess

Surprise, surprise. After just a couple of hours of so-called consensus talks in Government Buildings, the four main party leaders have decided to call the whole thing off.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore know that sooner or later the economic crisis will be their problem -- but, for now at least, they've made it clear that Brian Cowen and John Gormley are on their own.

Gormley's idea of all-party negotiations has looked like a political stunt from the moment he blurted it out to a journalist a couple of weeks ago.

Although the opposition leaders felt obliged to go through the motions, they also told the Government in no uncertain terms that they were not in the mood for signing any blank cheques.

Even though the Leinster House peace process failed to produce any deal, however, it would be unfair to call it a complete waste of time.

The ashen faces of Michael Noonan and Joan Burton as they emerged from the Department of Finance this week suggest that at least Fine Gael and Labour now know the full scale of our economic black hole. By extending the hand of friendship, the Government has cunningly put the spotlight on the opposition's policies -- and the response so far has been less than convincing.

FG, to be fair, are working hard to put some flesh on the bones. Enda Kenny's party has declared that we need to prioritise spending cuts over tax increases.


They have also promised to produce a four-year budgetary strategy to match the Government's by the middle of next month.

Over at Labour, meanwhile, Eamon Gilmore's halo is starting to slip. His populist 'Mr Angry' approach may have worked wonders in the opinion polls up to now, but he has been badly burned by his unconvincing answers to some hard questions put to him by this newspaper.

As anyone can see, Labour's 'tax the rich and cut nothing' policy would not raise anything like enough money to solve the problem.

Under normal circumstances, the opposition's policies (or lack of them) would not be that big a deal. Right now, they matter hugely for two reasons.

One, there will almost certainly be a general election next year and the Kenny/Gilmore axis is virtually guaranteed to win.

Two, the EU and financial markets are watching us like hawks -- and they've made it clear that if Ireland doesn't look serious about cleaning up its act, then the world will no longer owe us a living.

With Britain's politicians cracking jokes about Brian Lenihan in the House of Commons, our international reputation is taking a real battering. That's why every party in Dail Eireann must stop playing politics as usual and start coming up with realistic solutions instead.

The position now is that all sides accept we need to get the deficit down to 3pc by 2014, but nobody agrees on how to do it. If we can't have consensus, the Government and opposition should at least have an honest debate with all options clearly on the table -- and let the people decide at the polls.

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