Several flashpoint issues but abortion a potential deal-breaker for Coalition
For many in Labour, the biggest bugbear has been that income taxes have remained untouched for the highest earners, and anything that has been tried to bring more fairness to the system has been batted back by Fine Gael as being burdensome for business.
Labour Ministers have flown kites (perhaps unintentionally), including Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin, who suggested taxes could not remain immune from change. Then there is Joan Burton, a serial purveyor of off- message remarks, who has infuriated Fine Gael with suggestions of employers paying for some periods of sick leave and an increase in PRSI.
And then there have been the personality clashes between Fine Gael and Labour Ministers, not least the row that erupted this week when Róisín Shortall issued a pointed press release letting it be known that she found out about HSE chief executive Cathal Magee’s impending resignation from the media. Reilly seems like a red rag to a bull for some Labour TDs; and Burton seems the equivalent for some Fine Gael backbenchers.
But tension of that kind is inevitable and manageable – as long as there are no deal-breakers.
“There are two different political parties,” says Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of Labour. “If there is no tension there, there must be something fundamentally wrong.”
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Abortion: This has emerged as the only one that could seriously undermine the Coalition with stark divisions between the parties.
Croke Park: The Government is committed to implementing the Croke Park agreement until it ends next year. However, there has been sniping from Fine Gael TDs, including Leo Varadkar. Labour TDs view the deal as having delivered while the views from Fine Gael are almost uniformly negative.
Gay marriage: Eamon Gilmore has described it as “the civil rights issue of this generation”. 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 say it will get the go-ahead. Even younger Fine Gael TDs who oppose abortion don’t have strong views on it.
Alcohol: Róisín Shortall’s proposals to impose minimum prices and put restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sporting events never made it to Cabinet. Several Labour TDs complained about the power of the drinks industry lobby, implying that pressure was being brought to bear on Fine Gael.
Budget and Ministerial clashes: One of the features in the run-up to last year’s budget was the kites being flown by Ministers. In the end, basic social welfare rates were protected and income tax rates were not increased. But with very low growth and a €3.5 billion adjustment planned, there is a growing belief that the status quo will not prevail. Both parties have tolerance thresholds on their principles, but most TDs seem to adopt a pragmatic viewpoint; that painful compromise is inevitable.
Future of Seanad: The biggest signs of unease within Labour has emerged in the Seanad but that seems to reflect internal tensions. There are a number of new Labour Senators who are very opposed to abolishing the second chamber. However, it is the settled policy of both parties and it is unlikely that a small group of recalcitrant Senators will reverse that.