The parties take stock


IT IS a time to take stock. The political landscape has been transformed for the Government and the Opposition parties but the overwhelming problems remain to be tackled. The major setbacks at local, European and Dáil level ensure that there is no appetite on the Government benches for a general election. That position is unlikely to change in the short term, in spite of demands from Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It would be an abdication of responsibility if the Government responded to this electoral rebuff by postponing economic reforms.

Major challenges face this State and the economy. When Taoiseach Brian Cowen took office he promised reform of the civil and public service along with increased productivity, but there has been precious little evidence of that happening. Instead, as the economy imploded, revenues collapsed, and the banking crisis engulfed our ability to deal with these problems, the Cabinet responded with higher taxes and levies and reductions in services. And, by God, it was punished for them.

Difficult, but necessary measures are required in the December budget and, irrespective of new political configurations, that undertaking must hold. A traumatised Green Party wants to renegotiate the programme for government and expressed concern that aspects of the December budget may pose difficulties. But if Mr Cowen wants to remain in office, he should reach beyond his Coalition partner and seek a greater understanding with Fine Gael and the Labour Party on a restructuring of the banks; how employment can be sustained and the maintenance of social solidarity. Mr Cowen, to date, has insisted that only Fianna Fáil can rule OK. He has rejected any possibility of the Dáil playing a central role in providing leadership and public understanding of the complex issues at stake.

But while the dust settles, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, newly empowered by the electorate, cannot be absolved from their duty in the public interest at this time. They have had it easy. They were able to tap successfully into the anger and resentment of voters in last Friday’s elections knowing that a change of government would not necessarily take place.

Fine Gael, in particular, succeeded beyond its wildest expectations to become, for the first time, the biggest party in local government. The Labour Party had a magnificent performance, especially in Dublin.

The Dáil will debate a motion of no confidence in the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Coalition today. The stakes are high. It is arguable that the Coalition parties have lost their mandate from the people.

In these circumstances, however, it is incumbent on Fine Gael and the Labour Party to set out their policies to deal with spending cuts, civil and public service reforms, child benefit and other cost-cutting measures, so that the public is properly informed about the difficult choices to be made now. There is a chasm between the two main Opposition parties. The alternative government can only be assessed when they set out their stall for a mandate in a general election.