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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 3, 2011 @ 11:29 am

    Courtship rituals

    Harry McGee

    I met a seasoned Fine Gael politician yesterday who is a (yep, I’m in one of those pretentious moods this morning) nonpareil when it comes to political nous and astute observation.

    We bumped into each other in the Leinster House canteen and he was full of praise for the two teams.

    He didn’t profess to any inside knowledge and based his judgement on what he had seen in public.

    In other words, the courtship dance as stepped out by Joan Burton and that nimble old-time waltzer Michael Noonan.

    “The choreography is brilliant, just brilliant, ” said the politician. “Sure, it’s in the bag”.

    He was referring to the brief comments  made by participants yesterday, to wit: Things are much worse than we imagined.

    “They’re going to sign a deal and it’s going to be tough. So both sides are putting it out so that nobody is surprised when the deal is done,” he said.

    It’s an old political trick. You know that bad news is coming down the line and you won’t be winning any popularity contests.

    It’s usually done with a report that’s highly critical of Government. Some of the most damning findings are leaked so the Minister or administratin takes a hit. Then when the full report is published, the shock and disappointment has already been absorbed somewhat.

    This week’s events are not quite like that. There have been few leaks and both sides have been tight when it comes to doling out the information.

    It seems to be an exercise in managing expectations. And I have no doubt that Michael Noonan and Joan Burton said what they said with the knowledge of everybody, that they didn’t go on solo runs.

    What they were saying was: Brace yourselves, put on your seatbelts, because when we announce the Programme for Government you are in for a hairy and bumpy journey.

    But don’t be lulled into thinking they are all playing cribbage and going through the motions. The negotations are tough. Both sides believe their respective strongest ever electoral performances have given them moral authority and sway. There are big gaps that can’t be easily accommodated. And there is the critical question of who gets the Finance Ministry.

    Do I believe they will reach agreement? Yes. Do I believe it will be easily done? No, no, no.

    At this point of time I find it hard to see how it can be done by Saturday morning.

    My guess: I will be very surprised if Labour manage to get their way on the deficit and the timescale. It’s going to be €9 billion, not €7 billion. And the timescale. Well the EU and IMF have said 2014. But they have also given a year’s grace just in case we meet the target. So the target will remain unchanged but Labour will present it as a gain of a year, with its spokespeople saying they did not manage to extend it to 2016 but did get it to 2015.

    The public service? There will be compromise there. There will have to be. Fine Gael’s target does not seem realistic and Labour might as well fold up their tent if they don’t get any shiftage on that. Targets will be closer to 20,000 but there will be strict tough unbendable rules on reaching those targets, that will be laid down by Fine Gael as a sine qua non.

    Banking, interest rates; burning bondholders: I think for now both parties will have no choice but to dance to those who have paid the piper: the EU and IMF

    Ministry of Finance: A huge sticking point.

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