FF support collapses - Is it time for cross-party government?

THE euphoria Fine Gael must have felt at first sight of the weekend poll that gave them a historic seven-point lead over Fianna Fáil could only have been momentary.

The prospect of being asked to run the country as the world economy collapses would be too daunting to contemplate. Too daunting even for a party that has languished in opposition for far longer than it might care to acknowledge. Enda Kenny — and Eamon Gilmore who has presided over a 6% increase in Labour’s rating — would have been delighted to cheer the theory but would prefer to wait for another day to turn it into practice.

And it would be hard to blame either of them.

The Sunday Business Post poll results are unsurprising as Mr Cowen’s government struggles to recover authority squandered recklessly in the still-evolving budget debacle. It is not certain that that authority can be re-established.

Fianna Fáil support has dropped by 10% since late September. Just about one in four voters (26%) say they would vote for Fianna Fáil in a general election. Support for Fine Gael (33%) and Labour (15%) has jumped by five points and six points respectively. This is uncharted territory for Fine Gael, but the achievement is undermined by the circumstances under which it was realised. The Green party’s support is steady though how the clamour growing around education cuts will affect its relationship with Fianna Fáil only time can tell. Already there are reports of secret Green party meetings called to discuss the budget.

We face European and local elections next year and another Lisbon vote is a possibility. Unless Mr Cowen can establish unity over deeply unpopular cuts, and convince the Greens and independents — or maybe Labour — that there is no alternative we may face a third or even a fourth trip to polling booths next year.

We have more than enough problems without the instability an early election would bring. However, our cabinet does not inspire the kind of confidence the country needs at this critical time.

As each day passes we are told that our situation is deteriorating and that, according to the International Monetary Fund, we are in the midst of a “once-in-a-hundred-years financial crisis”. Domestic unemployment is soaring as the tax take collapses.

Difficult times indeed, but made even more difficult by the expectations created by years of Bertie Ahern’s soft-option, imprudent and ruinous giveaways.

At times like these brave, radical and selfless leadership is required. At times like this the differences between our two main political parties are easily seen for what the are; differences of personality and culture rather than any deep split over political philosophy.

Indulgences rather than impossibilities.

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are of the centre, neither is especially radical on any issue other than self-preservation and the retention of power.

This is a small country with finite material and intellectual resources. As Fianna Fáil struggles to meet the needs of the day, the time has come to organise the best minds and the most experienced politicians in the Dáil, irrespective of party, to form a government of unity to confront the huge problems we face?

By putting country before tribe Mr Cowen would at one stroke restore the Government’s authority and credibility, inspire confidence and generate the optimism our economy is crying out for. If he is genetically incapable, too hard-wired Fianna Fáil, to even consider the option he is not the kind of leader we need now.

And, if not now, when?


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