Coalition turns up the heat on the election front

Political outlook is confused as parties attempt to be ‘all things to all men’

 

The election may not happen until next year, but Fine Gael and the Labour Party are applying full throttle as they bombard the electorate with positive news and lay out their contrasting policy stalls for undecided voters. The speed and extent of the recovery may have taken everyone by surprise but the parties are determined the Opposition will not benefit from their successful, if unpopular, management of the economy.

A five-point jump in support for the coalition parties during the summer months has led backbenchers to believe their fortunes are on the turn and what was unthinkable a few months ago may now be possible. They would be wise to show caution. Government parties gain approval during holiday periods but this frequently fades when exposed to sustained criticism. The Dáil returns next week and Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin will be in attack mode, presenting themselves as the nuclei of alternative governments. But by the time Michael Noonan delivers his Budget in October, voting trends should have stabilised.

The political outlook is confused. Micheál Martin insists he will not lead Fianna Fáil into a coalition arrangement with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin. Gerry Adams says he will only participate in a government where Sinn Féin is the dominant party. Smaller parties and Independents may be able to provide the critical mass required. But conflicting demands and instability pose problems.

On the Government side – in spite of Enda Kenny’s commitment – there are worrying signs the parties are quite prepared to “blow the recovery”. The cost of suggested cuts in income tax and USC, along with funding for nursing homes, hospital services, gardaí, education, public service pay and social housing far exceeds the €1.5 billion in additional spending nominated by Mr Noonan and Brendan Howlin.

The parties are trying to be all things to all men. Within days of the OECD congratulating the Government on a job well done, particularly in relation to capping mortgage relief and construction incentives, Mr Noonan was asking the Central Bank to review its guidelines and making accommodating noises towards a sector deeply involved in the crash. More of the same can be expected as the parties unveil separate election programmes in order to maximise their voter appeal.

Buffeted by speculation involving the Provisional IRA and falling opinion poll ratings, Mr Adams asked people to “lend” Sinn Féin their votes. In return, he offered to abolish water and property charges and reverse welfare cuts. Mr Martin declined to engage in overt auction politics but presented himself as “the only alternative taoiseach”. Two left-leaning parties set aside old differences while Independents and Others took careful stock of their prospects. A new Dáil session is shaping up nicely.

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