Sta­bil­ity of new coali­tion cru­cial

Bray People - - OPINION -

AS EX­PECTED Fine Gael and Labour will form the next gov­ern­ment af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two par­ties came to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion at the week­end. As was also to be ex­pected, the pro­gramme drawn up by the coali­tion part­ners in­volves con­sid­er­able com­pro­mise on both sides. This may not be en­tirely wel­come - de­pend­ing on one’s po­lit­i­cal align­ment, among other mat­ters - but it’s not a bad thing to get crit­i­cal ar­eas of dif­fer­ence be­tween the two par­ties ironed out from the out­set.

The com­pro­mises will be frowned upon by the sup­port­ers of each party and, given that the newly-weds can ex­pect no hon­ey­moon pe­riod, ar­eas of com­pro­mise will be the fo­cus of much anal­y­sis and crit­i­cism. How­ever, it is bet­ter for the two par­ties - whose pol­icy dif­fer­ences are not in­con­sid­er­able - to sort out the ar­eas where they need to give ground now rather than hav­ing these re-emerge as di­vi­sive is­sues that could threaten the sta­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment at a later stage.

A key area of com­pro­mise, and one that will cause dis­quiet among the gen­eral pub­lic, re­lates to the promised re­form of the pub­lic ser­vice. Fine Gael’s elec­tion man­i­festo promised to cut the num­ber of peo­ple em­ployed in our bloated and un­sus­tain­ably ex­pen­sive pub­lic ser­vice by 30,000 and party leader Enda Kenny was adamant dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign that this would be achieved. The Labour party, which is closely aligned to the trade unions, took a much softer line, of­fer­ing a re­duc­tion of 18,000 in the pub­lic ser­vice head count, to be achieved by vol­un­tary re­dun­dan­cies and worked out through the Croke Park Agree­ment, which at this re­move was very favourable to the unions.

The com­pro­mise deal of some­thing in the or­der of 21,000-25,000 vol­un­tary job cuts over the next three years clearly favours the Labour po­si­tion and will not im­press the vot­ers who gave Fine Gael its strong­est ever stand­ing in Le­in­ster House, not least when Labour’s Min­is­ter for Pub­lic Sec­tor Re­form will con­trol the process. Nei­ther will the deal im­press the heav­ily taxed pri­vate sec­tor work­ers who foot the bill for the civil ser­vice where work­ers en­joy far more favourable work­ing con­di­tions and un­par­alled job se­cu­rity.

Of course it goes with­out say­ing both Fine Gael and Labour have en­gaged in some­thing of a cha­rade in tout­ing num­bers of re­dun­dan­cies that are en­tirely spec­u­la­tive. It would be far bet­ter to cal­cu­late the min­imun num­ber of staff needed to do the work in the var­i­ous ar­eas of the pub­lic ser­vice; all oth­ers are sur­plus to re­quire­ments and should be left go. Whether the ap­pro­pri­ate fig­ure is 18,000 or 30,000 would then be per­fectly clear and need not be a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal bar­ter­ing. How­ever, while Fine Gael’s ap­par­ent ca­pit­u­la­tion on the is­sue is dis­qui­et­ing, at least the mat­ter is now set­tled and should not re-emerge to threaen the sta­bil­ity of the newly formed gov­ern­ment.

That sta­bil­ity will be cru­cial - the coali­tion part­ners may have sidestepped some thorny is­sues now, but they will need to work solidly to­gether and tackle far more test­ing prob­lems in the dif­fi­cult years ahead if they are to have any hope of restor­ing some sem­blance of pros­per­ity to the coun­try. In the mean­time there are im­por­tant ar­eas where the two par­ties are very much of the same mind, such as tak­ing prac­ti­cal, achiev­able steps to cre­ate em­ploy­ment.

These in­clude ac­cel­er­at­ing ‘ shovel ready’ cap­i­tal projects such as build­ing new schools and roads that will give much needed em­ploy­ment; end­ing the prac­tice of ‘up­ward only’ rent re­views that are crip­pling small busi­nesses; and the abo­li­tion of travel tax, which will be wel­comed by the tourism in­dus­try. On these ini­tia­tives they are nei­ther lim­ited by dif­fer­ences of pol­icy nor the strong hand of the EU which now steers our econ­omy and they have ev­ery en­cour­age­ment from a peo­ple who are cry­ing out for jobs.

The coali­tion part­ners are also agreed on the need to re­form our dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. On this they have a free hand plus the sup­port of the the vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of Ire­land who are sick to death of tra­di­tional Ir­ish pol­i­tics. Enda Kenny promised real change within 100 days of tak­ing of­fice. We now ex­pect to see that hap­pen and where bet­ter to start than in the cor­ri­dors of power.

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