SF swing can make Gilmore Taoiseach
Cowen determined to hang on to office until St Patrick's weekend
THE spectre of a Labour and Sinn Fein-led government, with the support of independent socialist TDs, is now uncomfortably close to reality, according to the latest analysis of voting intentions.
The formation of such a left/hard-left government -- which is now predicted to win up to 87 seats -- is emerging from a deepening sense of anger, frustration and alienation among the electorate, particularly since the EU-IMF bailout deal.
Until now, the prevailing assumption was that Fine Gael and Labour would form a new government after the General Election.
Yesterday, government sources said the election would be called in late February or early March and held before St Patrick's weekend.
However, the publication of pre-budget submissions on Friday has starkly illustrated the wide policy divergence that exists between the two main opposition parties in terms of how to deal with the economic crisis.
Now, detailed analysis of an opinion poll published during the week, and seen by the Sunday Independent, has highlighted the distinct possibility that Labour and Sinn Fein could form a new government with the support of a majority -- but not necessarily all -- of up to 15 independent TDs.
According to the Red C poll in the Irish Sun, Labour (24 per cent), Sinn Fein (16 per cent), and independents (11 per cent), were on a combined total of 51 per cent.
An analysis by the Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI) translates those percentages into Dail seats as follows: Labour 48, Sinn Fein 24, independents 15.
Its analysis points out that the independent TDs are likely to include prominent left-wing candidates, such as Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party and Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit, as well as several others on the hard left.
If all of the independents were to back a Labour-Sinn Fein coalition, then a clear majority of up to 87 seats would be in place, comfortably more than the 83 required to form a government.
According to the PSAI analysis, Fine Gael would be the principal opposition party with 67 seats; Fianna Fail would be reduced to just 12; and the Greens would lose all of their seats and be completely wiped out.
While the formation of such a government must be considered unlikely at this stage, the analysis opens up another option in the rapidly shifting political landscape.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has ruled out coalition with Sinn Fein, but the party's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton has been somewhat more equivocal.
However, the prospect of Mr Gilmore as Taoiseach may prove a huge incentive for Labour to enter government with Sinn Fein.
It is now clear that the arrival of the EU-IMF last month -- and the perceived dilution of national sovereignty resulting from that -- is fuelling a radical rethink among the electorate.
Labour and Sinn Fein have been most strident in their opposition to the terms of the €85bn 'bailout' arrangement negotiated by representatives of the Government.
In the Dail last week, Mr Gilmore declared that his party would not be bound by the EU-IMF deal and would seek to renegotiate it.
Labour opposes the entire premise of the agreement that there must be €6bn in cuts and savings next year.
Sinn Fein, meanwhile, has been even more critical and has said that it would default on part or all of the debt.
This stance is supported by the hard left.
The view of several policymakers and economic commentators that the EU-IMF deal has placed an unsustainable debt burden on Irish citizens seems to be persuading voters to look again at an alternative left-wing government, including Sinn Fein.
According to a Sunday Independent/Quantum Res-earch poll today, 61 per cent majority believe the EU-IMF deal is not a good one for the country; that 71 per cent believe the Dail should be given an opportunity to vote on it and that 54 per cent do not believe the next Government should be bound by it.
It has also found that a 58 per cent majority believe the Government should default on all or part of the debt.
Reports last week that the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, 55, was to receive a 'golden handshake' of €325,000 and an annual pension of more than €100,000 have added to an already huge sense of anger and frustration among the public.
Furthermore, reports that Allied Irish Bank paid out almost €60m on bonuses over the past two years, including €3.4m to key staff this year, are deepening a general sense of injustice.
In a populist move, Mr Gilmore has promised in Labour's pre-budget submission to cap the salary of the Taoiseach at €190,000 and to reduce ministerial salaries by 17 per cent.
However, there are major differences between the pre-budget submissions of Fine Gael and Labour.
Fine Gael has accepted the need for the €6bn adjustment, as agreed with the EU and the IMF, with €15bn to be found mostly in reduced spending over four years.
By contrast, Labour wants an adjustment of just €4.5bn, with the savings made up equally between cuts and taxes.
It has pledged to renegotiate the terms of the EU-IMF rescue package.
While there is much in common between Fine Gael and Labour, including the need for job-creation packages, they propose different ways of funding and structuring such packages.
Fine Gael, meanwhile, has highlighted its intention to cut the public sector workforce by 30,000 by 2014 and to make savings of at least €260m next year.
Labour does not specify public service job losses, but expects to make even greater savings of €400m in 2011.
In the Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll, a 59 per cent majority says the Croke Park Agreement should be scrapped now, rather than waiting nine months to see if it achieves savings in the public sector.