Coalition strained over policy shift
Coalition strained over policy shift

Relations in the Dublin coalition government have become increasingly difficult in the wake of a poor performance in the local and European elections last week.

Hostile exchanges between the small Progressive Democrats and the larger Fianna Fail party have continued since the elections showed a sharp decline in support for both parties.

Following a clear swing to the left across the country in the elections, a fearful Fianna Fail is now seeking a more socially minded approach to policy, rather than the pro-business formula advocated by the PDs.

The deputy Prime Minister, Mary Harney, warned that her party was prepared to quit the government if relations with Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fail continued to deteriorate.

Ms Harney accused the party of attempting to scapegoat her group after Mr Ahern suggested that its ethos had led to government policies that ran contrary to Fianna Fail’s centre-left philosophy.

Yesterday, however, Mr Ahern implied that his comments had been aimed at the minister for justice, Michael McDowell, and not Ms Harney.

He claimed that there was disquiet among Fianna Fail backbenchers at some comments made by Mr McDowell before the election.

The minister for communications, Dermot Ahern, was also forced to insist that an attack had not been aimed at the PD party leader.

But he criticised again yesterday what is seen as the PD view of society, saying there was “disquiet” in Fianna Fail after Mr McDowell said recently that inequality was good and necessary for the economy to thrive.

He said that while the PDs represented just 3 per cent of the electorate, Fianna Fail represented 30 to 40 per cent “and we have to represent these publicly as well as privately”.

But Mr McDowell has rejected the criticism, and said the Dublin government must “stride forward with implementing the commitments which it made and on foot of which it won office”.

Sinn Féin saw the largest gains in the elections, which saw an increase in support for all the opposition parties.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte claimed that attempts by Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats to blame each other were vacuous.

“The fact is that both parties were equally to blame for the deception of the electorate in advance of the 2002 general election and for the litany of broken and undelivered promises that has characterised the record of this awful government,” he said.

“Posturing by Fianna Fail ministers who would have the electorate believe that they might have their homework vetted every night by minister McDowell simply won’t wash.

“It will take more than a few speeches from Dermot Ahern to rescue a government that is so out of touch as this one, so contemptuous of the people it represents, so incompetent in the things it is supposed to manage.

“This is a government that got the verdict it deserved on June 11.”

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