Pivotal moment could be turning point for Coalition

Kenny and Gilmore avoid triumphalism when saying no backstop will be necessary


We should know the modus operandi of this Coalition by now. Its announcements are never straightforward, especially when there is good news.

Nowadays, it doesn’t happen unless there is stealth, surprise and dramatics.

It happened for the promissory note decision earlier this year. And it happened this morning.

All week the Government has been signalling that it would not seek formal approval for a bailout exit without a precautionary credit line at the meeting of euro finance ministers in Brussels today.

As late as yesterday afternoon, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan was telling the Oireachtas Finance Committee it was not on the Government’s agenda.

But then at 9am there was a hastily-convened Cabinet meeting at which Mr Noonan formally sought approval from the Government, followed by Dáil statements which concluded just after noon.

There is no doubt that despite what Shane Ross described as the “political bravado” surrounding the announcement, it was a good day for the Government, one of the defining moments of its terms.

Some three years after the event, and 32 months after taking power, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore were in a position to say Ireland was exiting the bailout, regaining sovereignty, and was now big and confident enough to ride the bicycle without the need for stabilisers, provided by the EU or the IMF.

To an extent the Coalition exploited the moment, but that’s what politicians and governments do, and it could afford to revel in the glory.

That said, there was a conscious and deliberate effort on both Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore’s part in their short statements not to sound overly triumphant or self-praiseworthy.

Both listed off all the statistics which give substance to their assertion that Ireland is in a position to exit availing only of the backstop of some €24 billion provided by the National Treasury Management Agency.

They included the fall in the live register, the creation of 3,000 jobs per month, the current favourable market conditions, the likelihood of a primary surplus next year, the low interest rate for Irish Government bonds.

Kenny emphasised there was “still a long way to travel but [WE ARE]moving in the right direction.

“This does not mean the end of difficult economic decisions. There are still difficult times ahead,” he said, cautioning against any windfall.

The Tánaiste struck a similar sober note. He described it as an important milestone and a historic decision but added there would be “no celebration until economic recovery is experience in daily lives of the people”.

There will be a choreography between now and December 15th when the formal exit happens. If the strengthening wind that has been gathering behind the backs of the Coalition continues to gather pace, it is clear that this development will be seen as a turning point, one of those moments when the Coalition’s prospects of re-election became realistic and attainable.

Of the two parties, it is the smaller, Labour, which has borne the brunt of some of the very unpopular and harsh measures which have been taken to fulfil a very difficult bailout programme.

It will hope that that this moment - allied to a little more flexibility from next year in terms of spending - will mark the beginning of its recovery.

For the opposition, there is little that can be done in these situations. It is a good day for the Government and the best approach is to keep one’s head low and accept the loss.

Unfortunately for him, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin had a tin ear to all of that. His contribution in which he carped at, and criticised, the Government for condemning the bailout programme and then implementing it struck the wrong note - it just served as another reminder that Fianna Fáil was responsible for the crisis in the first instance.

He did make some substantial points about the absence of a public debate as to the merits or demerits of leaving the bailout without a backstop from the EU. It could be that the country’s decision to go it alone using money that the NTMA has raised (at a slightly higher interest rate) might be more expensive.

But Mr Martin chose the wrong moment to make those arguments. The tone was wrong, the message was discordant.

His message was there was no shame in taking an insurance policy But as Alan Shatter acidly noted, it was like listening to a burglar giving advice about house insurance.

Ditto for Gerry Adams. He tried to portray the events of this morning as a panicky reaction from Government but his claim that it was ‘bounced’ could not be further from the truth. This was strategic, planned as other similar ‘red-letter’ developments have been.

He did a little better when commenting that the “Troika may be leaving but the Troika mindset remains”.

That will be a good political seam for Sinn Fein to explore when the Government begins standing on its own two feet from the New Year.

Undoubtedly, neither the Taoiseach nor Tánaiste were overstating the occasion by describing the development as historic. It is a pivotal moment and all the indications are positive when it comes to the Government’s political fortunes.

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