Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Dead end looms for coalition


``Fianna Fail wants to see change for the better. We want opportunities and a place in the sun for all''. These were just some of the sound bites and platitudes littered through Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern's rally the troops speech last week.

What Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern have misunderstood is that not only are people's economic expectations raised, so are their political expectations. It is not enough to sit back and preside over the economy and say what a good boy am I
Speaking in Kilkenny to the assembled Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, Ahern gave one of his most upbeat performances since taking office. There was little that his administration did not and will not take credit for. The corollary of this is that there is little that they think they can be blamed for either.

This week, though political reality must hit the Soldiers of Destiny, as Leinster House returns to what could be the last months or even weeks of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition. There is a range of pressing issues that need urgent action by the government. Dealing with the negative consequences of inflation is just one of them.

Add in hospital waiting lists, housing, the collapsing transport infrastructure, growing public sector wage claims, not to mention the Flood and Moriarty Tribunals and you have a turbulent time ahead for the coalition.

Most of all, the biggest and most difficult problem is that public expectations have been raised hugely by the opulence and excess of the Celtic Tiger. The ordinary citizens who are struggling to keep up with mortgage payments on their expensive houses want something better. The tens of thousands of people who have not even reached the first rung of having an expensive mortgage are also looking for the government to deliver. Then add in the truck drivers, farmers, those on hospital waiting lists and even those waiting to get on a list.

Bertie Ahern can portray this as sectional groups all looking for a slice of the cake and his job is to ensure fair play, but this can only work in the very short term. There is an urgent need for the Dublin Government to be seen as decisive, competent and quick moving now.

What Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern have misunderstood is that not only are people's economic expectations raised, so are their political expectations. It is not enough to sit back and preside over the economy and say what a good boy am I. People want more substance.

If the government are so good at tackling unemployment, why are they so bad at not only tackling inflation, but even admitting it is a problem? If they can empower the computer and new technology sectors, why can't they deliver an adequate transport structure?

The answer is simple. This is an incredibly bad government who just happen, by the most tenuous of connections, to be presiding over a growing vibrant economy. It is not just the negative effects of the tribunals, the botched O'Flaherty appointment, and the occasional bouts of foot and mouth that various ministers have got themselves into, particularly Mary Harney, who no doubt will be back on the Haughey Christmas card list this year. It is their general lack of competence to solve basic problems.

Take for example the proposal by Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Crowe that the 90 million DIRT payment made by AIB this week, be used to help the thousands of families who, according to the Director of Consumer Affairs, have amassed over 60 million in debts to money lenders who levy three figure interest rates.

The logic of Crowe's case is that these are the banks who would not open branches never mind lend money in the marginalised and deprived areas where money lenders thrive. It makes sense then that the money from the illegal accounts they opened should be used to help the people abandoned by the mainstream banking sector.

It is highly likely that the coalition parties will ignore this sound proposal. They would prefer to talk platitudes such as those from Ahern last week, when he said that ``while we should not be complacent or too easily satisfied, let us not knock success''.

The other thing that both Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have being hyping is their unwillingness to consider a coalition with Sinn Féin. Ahern says that ``Sinn Fein needs to resolve its relationship with the IRA, as Fianna Fáil did in the past at the time of its formation''.

It seems that Ahern's knowledge of Fianna Fáil history is as sketchy as the memory of his former leader, Charlie Haughey's has been this week at the Moriarty Tribunal.

At least Mary Harney said her reason for entering coalition was partly because of a dislike of Sinn Fein policies. Mary Harney may be worried about Sinn Fein's economic policies but what is there to fear in building the houses, paying the worker an adequate wage, educating the children and ensuring that they can look forward to proper clothes, nourishing food and warm houses. What is wrong in wanting to ensure equity in education and health care?

It is wrong for the PDs because their party and their polices are one's for the rich, the establishment that are benefiting from the economic boom oblivious and indifferent to those being exploited by it and worse still indifferent to those left behind. The question that voters will be asking next time around is how is this any different from the policies of Fianna Fáil.

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