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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 21, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

    Coalition Flash Points

    Harry McGee

    This is a detailed breakdown of fault line issues following on from today’s piece in paper.
    1. Abortion. This has emerged as the only one that could seriously
    undermine the Coalition. It seems that clear majorities in both
    parties have polar views on the issue.
    “I was surprise that so many newer and younger TDS have very strong
    views on this issue,” says Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh form Galway West.
    “It’s an issue that Labour Party are very supportive of and want to
    push. This is going to be a major bone of contention.
    “The input of the parliamentary party is vital. It’s critical our
    voice is listened to,” he said.
    For Labour TDs, the expert group being established is in the
    programme for government and has to be implemented.
    “We in Labour were told to vote against Clare Daly’s Bill (to give effect to the X case judgement) on the basis that the expert group would make a
    recommendation,” says Waterford TD Ciara Conway.
    She believes it’s not as red line as some might suggest. “I think it’s
    a bit more nuanced.”
    That view is shared by Senator Ivana Bacik of Labour who points to
    initial Fianna Fail opposition to civil partnership during its coalition with the Greens.
    But that might underestimate the vehemence of Fine Gael opposition.
    The party’s youngest TD Simon Harris has very clearly identified it as
    red line issue, as have others.
    Dealbreaker potential: 9 out of 10

    2. Croke Park
    The Government as a whole is committed to implementing the Croke Park agreement until it ends next year. But that has not been without constant sniping from Fine Gael TDs and the occasional minister (Leo Varadkar).
    Again, the views of both parliamentary parties radically differ.
    The interim report shows it has delivered,” says Labour’s Conway.
    “Our TDs would be inundated with complaints if we did not have Croke
    Park. It has been able to bring about change with no industrial action of any significance.”
    “It’s delivering €1.5bn in savings annually. We cannot lose sight of
    what it is achieving. Even the IMF say that social partnership is the
    envy of any Euroepan society,” echoes her colleague Colm Keaveney.
    On the other side, the view is almost uniformly negative. Fine Gael’s
    Harris mentions the breakthrough on sick pay but argues that to stick
    by it, real reform and not just posturing should be demonstrated.
    Another young Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy is even more sceptical: “It’s
    still not clear what the Croke Park agreement has actually achieved.
    Our first priority must be to reduce the deficit as quickly as
    possible. I can’t see how we can do that wile Croke Park remains in
    place,” he says.
    Brian Walsh from Galway West argues the public service pay must be tackled.
    “Funding is being cut from organisation and groups in disability. If
    you look at the budgets the vast majority of it is pay-related.
    Because of Croke Park, cuts have to be direct on the non pay side. But
    all the meat has been cut from the bone. It just means services are
    being affected.”
    But as long as the Government remains committed to it, Fine Gael TDs
    will swallow hard.
    Deal-breaker potential: 5 out of 10

    3. Gay Marriage
    Eamon Gilmore has said he wants it and says it is the most important civil right of our time.
    Enda Kenny has refused to state
    his position. TDs and Senators from both sides don’t believe it’s
    going to be an issue and that it’s going to get the go-ahead. Even
    younger Fine Gael TDs who oppose abortion don’t have strong views on
    it, one way or the other.
    Deal-breaker potential: 1 out of 10

    4. Alcohol
    Roisin Shortall’s proposals to impose minimum prices and put
    restrictions of alcohol advertising never made it to Cabinet. Several
    Labour TDs including Keaveny and O Riordain complained about the power
    of the drinks industry lobby, implying that pressure was being brought
    to bear on Fine Gael.
    “After the Phoenix Park concernts, I genuinely feel angry at the sway
    that alcohol has in Ireland,” said Keaveney.
    “I’m not taking away from Fine Gael colleagues or getting into a
    tit-for-tat but we need to reform society as well.”
    Shortall’s proposals are radical and, on the face of it, will be sure
    to make most Cabinet members baulk at the implications. Are her strong
    views supported by all of her Labour colleagues? Perhaps not. A
    compromise will be reached.
    Deal-breaker potential: 1 out of 10.

    5. Budget and Ministerial clashes
    One of the features in the run-up to last year’s budget was the
    flotilla of kites being flown by ministers, whose departments faced severe cuts. In the end, basic social welfare rates were protected and income taxes rates were not increased.
    But with very low growth and a €3.5 billion adjustment, there is a growing belief that the status quo will not prevail. That view was
    strengthened by this week’s IMF report that pointed to cuts in pensions, children’s benefits as well as a high-value property tax.
    Both parties have tolerance thresholds on their principles but most
    TDs seem to adopt a pragmatic viewpoint; that painful compromise will
    be inevitable.
    Says Labour’s O Riordain: “There are things that I feel very strongly
    about in the debate on social welfare and tax. I would feel there are
    those in Irish society who could pay more.
    “Anybody earning over €100,000 would not be as affected by higher taxes
    as much as the low paid.
    “The essential thing that has to be there is fairness. If people feel there is not fairness there, there will be a moral authority question-mark over Labour in Government.”
    Labour’s Keaveney believes both parties will have to accept deep compromise: “Everybody is going to have to swallow the medicine. We are going to have to think big and think country.”
    Deal-breaker potential: 5 out of 10

    6. Future of Seanad
    The biggest signs of unease within Labour has emerged within the
    Seanad but that seems reflect internal tensions between its own
    members in the Upper House. There are a number of new Labour senators
    who are very opposed to the abolition of the second chamber and have
    made that sentiment known. But it is the settled policy of both
    parties to abolish the Seanad. And it is unlikely that a small group
    of recalcitrant senators will upset that applecart.
    Deal-breaker potential: 2 out of 10

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