Sunday 17 December 2017

Conor Lenihan: A national government might be a good idea

The Green party leader has given everyone in the political system a good break.

John Gormley's invitation to the opposition parties to participate in the budgetary process allows them to get off the hook they have put themselves on.

Fine Gael have always insisted they have alternatives to those harsh measures taken by the Government -- and they did make some effort to frame policies that were their own.

Labour, under Eamon Gilmore, have simply opposed Government policy head on and refused to spell out how they would address the financial difficulties facing the state.

That is why Gilmore's first reaction to the Gormley offer was to state that "talk of national consensus" was only a way to keep Fianna Fail in power.


In typical style his response to an offer to take an all-party approach to our economic crisis was to again signal his determination to get Fianna Fail out of power.

Simply being against someone is no substitute for having hard policies that are alternative and offer the voter a choice.

It is because the opposition parties will not spell out their own alternatives that the call has come from some government deputies like Willie O'Dea and Mary O'Rourke that there should be a general election so that voters can then at least make a choice.

If the Government is to frame a four-year programme of budgetary and financial austerity then it would actually be better that they would do so in consultation with the opposition parties in Leinster House.

Afterall, a four-year plan will stretch beyond this government's mandate and dominate any government that will succeed the current one.

John Gormley's offer, in that sense, is the fairest of all options and that presumably is why the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was so quick to endorse his proposal.

In the prevailing atmosphere of bond market volatility, it makes huge sense to get some measure of opposition backing for any austerity plan if it is to hold water and convince those outside Ireland that we are serious about getting ourselves out of recession while mending our public finances.

In fact, there are strong arguments not just for a national consensus but also for, in effect, a national government of sorts.

All parties in the Dail accept that an election will probably happen in the next year or so.

If this is accepted why not, for economic stability, and the reputation of the country reach agreement on the essentials of our recovery plan in advance of an election so that the election itself, whenever it happens, will not cause further damage to our recovery efforts.

There is no doubt that there are people in the international markets who trade on uncertainty and instability within the Eurozone and their opportunity to feed off instability would be greatly enhanced by the prospect of Irish political parties slugging into each other over the economy during a prolonged election campaign.

Voters in Ireland are mature enough to know that no matter who was in power, at the present moment, they would have to impose cuts. Parties that claim that they would do austerity in some other " painless " fashion are only fooling themselves and not the voters.

That is why a "national consensus" as proposed by John Gormley, or even a national government, is a good idea. It gets everyone to the election and beyond it without doing further damage to the economy and in the eyes of those looking to invest in Ireland.

It was interesting to note that Lucinda Creighton of Fine Gael, while preferring having an election, was not all that averse to the notion of a national government, were it to be an option.


She may not be flavour of the month with her leader Enda Kenny, but she does recognise that a situation such as ours requires people in the political system to put the country before the individual party interest.

The public, in any event, do not see much difference between the two major parties (Fianna Fail and Fine Gael) and it may be high time that both parties buried the hatchet on their differences that now belong to a history now long gone.

There are deep worries in both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that the Labour Party, even if in coalition with either party, would not be able to tackle the challenge of public service reform because of their close and substantially unreformed links to the trade unions.

Labour in government will not have the stomach to stand up to the public service trade unions that financially fund them, a fact not lost to many at this particular time.

Conor Lenihan TD is Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. He is a Dail deputy for Dublin South West

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