Opposition must offer alternatives

THE two main opposition parties are united in a shared opinion that the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition perpetrated a fraud on the electorate in winning last year’s general election.

It is a view endorsed by most people in the country as, over the first year of their second term in office, the coalition partners have managed to attract odium from all sections of society in a spectacular fashion.

Perceived as having duped the voters by promising that there would be no cutbacks, secret or otherwise, they immediately unleashed a series of cutbacks and stealth taxes on being returned to power.

In doing so, they achieved a fait accompli which at this stage cannot be reversed. Constitutionally, there is no mechanism by which to remove the administration, short of a catastrophe which would cause even the current Government to resign and force an early election.

Given that this is an unlikely eventuality, the only prospect of a regime change in the corridors of power is the next general election although next year's local elections will be fraught for the Government.

Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have justifiably criticised the manner in which the Coalition has managed the country for the past 12 months, as has the Green Party.

FG's leader Enda Kenny accused the Government of unleashing economic havoc on society through its fiscal wantonness. Since buying their way back into power with the people's own money, they have scourged the country with a series of random and ill-thought out cutbacks.

For his part, Labour's Pat Rabbitte launched a document called Broken Words, Broken Promises, to counter the lengthy face-saving disclaimer published earlier this week by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tánaiste Mary Harney.

That is the role of the opposition but it is not the only one.

Considering the degree of dissatisfaction with the Government's performance which prevails throughout the country, it is disenchanting for the electorate to ponder what the alternative is.

Prior to the last general election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party ploughed their own electoral furrows. That, combined with the false sense of security the Coalition parties lured the people into, ensured the way was clear for Bertie Ahern's historic victory.

Mr Kenny may be feeling somewhat satisfied with the 40% growth in party membership 8,000 new members in the past year.

Equally, Mr Rabbitte had reason to be happy with the last public opinion poll, which showed him to be the most popular leader, and his party to have overtaken Fine Gael.

But, to borrow from Fianna Fáil's motto, there is more to do if the electorate are to be presented with a viable alternative next time out.

There is quite a lot more to do and overcoming any reservations about offering a united front is an option that both parties should consider.

The reason for being in politics is to achieve the power of being in government, and the corresponding ability to implement policies which are inspired by the belief that they can change the country for the better.

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