Handing Off The Mess – A “National Consensus”

You’ve probably noticed all the hubbub in the Irish news about this. Fianna Fail and Green efforts to include the main opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, in economic discussions.

On the face of it, it’s so the Irish parliament, in a time of grave economic uncertainty, can move forward and make decisions on a broader consensus therefore avoiding dissent. Come on guys, let’s get together! Let’s live the dream!

Nah, of course not. It’s a political ploy, a FF/G attempt to hit back at the opposition following months and months of bad press.

Consider: Fianna Fail knows its going to be out of power, probably within a year. The Greens are facing a wipeout. In terms of political thinking, its time to start looking towards the future. Long term.

When Fine Gael and Labour are the governing parties, they’ll have an economic quagmire to deal with, not of their own making. That, as the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition across the water has found, gives them a degree of protection from criticism. For a while, if the country remains in a mess, they can simply say “It’s not our fault, blame Fianna Fail”.

For a while. A year, maybe two. After that, if things aren’t looking up, it won’t pass muster anymore. Regardless of truth, the masses will begin to wonder if FG/Lab is actually doing what it said it would (or what they thought it would).

And all that time, hypocrisy will be the banner of Fianna Fail as they criticise and target every last austerity measure and cut the new coalition makes. They’ll be the ones suddenly trying to save services, protect the elderly etc. People won’t go for it…for a while.

But, inevitably, as things stay bad and show little signs of improving, that won’t remain the case. People will start to listen to Fianna Fail, the new Fianna Fail, yet again.

What’s happening right now, is an attempt by the government to kickstart that process early.

By inviting the opposition to contribute to economic policy, even if such an offer is meaningless, it leaves Fine Gael and Labour in a somewhat awkward position (as Fianna Fail intends). The prospect of a “national consensus” is unlikely in the extreme but the other political parties have to respond (and more than just the non-committal responses we’ve seen so far).

If they chose to not take part, or ignore the offer, Fianna Fail can legitimitly say “Well, we tried” and could paint the opposition as uncaring , of being more interested in political games then the well-being of Ireland. In Labour’s case, they’ll simply look even more like a party that has no concrete policies to lay out, to be an alternative (certainly, Gilmore’s response to the invitation, where he insisted that the government had to change before work could get done, reeks of this).

If they do take part and, do in fact, meet consensus on the issues, they will have the lost the ability to criticise the government on economic issues effectively. Fianna Fail will be able, on the slightest hint of dissent, to turn around and say “well, you agreed before.” Or perhaps “Why didn’t you bring this up before?”, both pretty bad. And in this scenario, the future government of FG/Lab can’t use the “It’s Fianna Fail’s fault” excuse as much as they would like to.

If they come out against the idea completely, vocally, they run the same risk of looking uncaring in the face of dour economic conditions. Especially, as in Labour’s case, they can’t come up with an alternative.

And the nightmare scenario: if one party chooses to take part and the other doesn’t, the coalition will have yet another crack to worry about before they even get into power.

These proposed talks are supposed to lay out economic decisions for the next four years, so, on the face of it, Fine Gael and Labour should make a showing. It’s their chance to start early. But if they choose not to, they better realise the difficult days ahead will be even harder for them.

Speaking of this whole thing, Willie O’ Dea continues to fight an election campaign in advance, further distancing himself from the Fianna Fail core. On Radio One yesterday, he stated that an election should be called if no four year inter-party deal could be arranged. One wonders whether O’ Dea no longer cares how many bridges he’s burning, but then again, there is a likelihood he’ll be the most popular FF TD in the next Dail. Who cares if it annoys the party faithful? A lot of them won’t be joining him.

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