26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern this week faced calls for an early election amid a public outcry over mounting evidence of serious incompetence within his cabinet and senior civil service.

26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern this week faced calls for an early election amid a public outcry over mounting evidence of serious incompetence within his cabinet and senior civil service.

The Dublin government is currently investigating why the Justice Ministry and Attorney General’s Office weren’t aware of a court case that led to the striking down of the country’s statutory-rape law and the release a week later of a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. The government has blamed the crisis on “human error”.

Meanwhile, the quality of health care in Ireland was ranked 25th out of 26 countries in a survey published last month by Swedish-based Health Consumer Powerhouse, even though spending on health services has risen almost fourfold under Ahern’s government. A continuing failure to deliver emergency health services to critically ill and elderly patients, with patients forces to wait days for urgent care, created a recent wave of public anger.

Technical tasks such as the introduction of a computerised payroll system in the Department of Health and a vote-counting system for use in elections have proven beyond the abilities of highly paid administrators. Both failures have cost hundreds of millions of Euros, with costs continuing to mount.

Crime is also causing alarm. Eighteen people died in gang shootings last year, more than twice the number in 2004. Six people have been killed in one area of Dublin already this year.

Ahern has rejected allegations of cronyism and low public standards in government circles.

“I can assure you that this government intends to finish the job the people gave us to do,” Ahern insisted during a two-day parliamentary debate on a censure proposal by opposition lawmakers. The government’s current term runs until May 2007.

Ahern, who has led a coalition of his Fianna Fail party and the Progressive Democrats since 1997, is fighting a decline in voter support after crises including the temporary freeing from prison of a convicted child rapist, public anger over hospital overcrowding, an escalating number of gang shootings and soaring prices for consumers.

Thirty-seven percent of voters back the coalition, according to a poll carried out for the Sunday Business Post newspaper, nine points down from the 46 percent the government won in the 2002 election.

“It’s not where I’d like to be when it comes to a general election,’’ Ahern said this week. “When I think of all the events of the last month, it’s acceptable enough.”

The government is considered likely to use its 2007 budget in December to bribe voters, with the tax take, as usual, coming in ahead of expectations.

While a give-away budget would put money in people’s pockets, much of that extra cash will be spent paying rising “stealth taxes” for government services. Car tax has risen 18 percent in the last four years, hospital fees have jumped 52 percent and water supply and garbage-disposal charges have more than doubled, all outpacing a 12 percent increase in average consumer prices.

While the 26-County state remains one of the most highly taxed societies in the world, certain “insider” industries and a select elite of super-rich have been seen to escape with little or no tax liablity.

“No other government has been in office against the background of such favorable economic conditions and yet has failed to deliver in so many key areas,” said opposition Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny in a statement. “There is now an unprecedented hunger for change.”

Sinn Féin’s leader in the Dublin parliament, Caoimhghin O Caolain, said that the forthcoming General Election should not be fought on the narrow ground agreed by Fine Gael and Labour. In the latest poll, the party saw its support increase to 9%, up from 8%.

Deputy O Caolain said the Fine Gael/Labour motion deliberately omitted fundamental failures of the current government because these two parties cannot publicly agree on them -- at least in advance of a General Election while each tries to retain its support base.

Seeking an amendment to the motion, Sinn Féin revealed key government failures which it intends to make General Election issues, including: the inequitable and inefficient two-tier health system; the privatisation of the national airline, Aer Lingus; the misuse of his position by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell; the giveaway of natural resources to multi-nationals such as Shell against the national and local interest; the failure to provide for representation in the Dublin parliament for citizens in the Six Counties; and the overall “sluggish” approach to the peace process by Ahern’s government.


Meanwhile, campaigners opposed to the routing of a planned motorway through Tara, the legendary ancient capital of Ireland, may form a political protest party to run at the next general election, it has emerged.

The High Court ruled in March that the chosen route did not impinge upon the ancient Hill of Tara site, but the group TaraWatch is appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

TaraWatch supporters held a protest yesterday outside the Dublin parliament in protest. Spokesman Vincent Salafia, who already faces a 600,000 Euro bill over legal challenges to the road, said he would form a political party to fight the issue at the general election in 2007.

“If the mainstream political parties don’t bite on the issue, then we will have to form our own political grouping,” Mr Salafia said.

“There is a lot of support for our campaign on the ground, and there will be a lot of votes on the doorsteps come general election time.”

“We believe that 70 per cent of people want the M3 rerouted away from Tara but the Government isn’t listening to them. If we cannot stop the motorway in the courts, we will try to stop it in the Dail.”

TDs Sean Crowe (Sinn Féin), Ciaran Cuffe (Green Party) and Tony Gregory (Independent), attended today’s demonstration.

A candle-lit walk will be held later this month along the planned route of the motorway to Tara.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News