News Fionnan Sheahan

Friday 22 August 2014

Giving in to Fine Gael's advances will prove kiss of death for Labour

Fionnan Sheahan

Published 10/02/2014 | 02:30

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Enda Kenny will be making some unwelcome advances

NO wonder the Labour Party wants to distance itself from Fine Gael, when the senior coalition party has apparently "extended the bailout".

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Well, that's if Fine Gael TD James Bannon is to be believed.

"In the three years since taking office, we have taken huge strides to get our country back on track.

"Ireland has extended the bailout programme, as the Taoiseach has said – and we all know it from the media," the rather confused Longford-Westmeath TD told the Fine Gael European selection convention yesterday.

The ending of the bailout is a feather in the cap for the Government and the culmination of three years of taking difficult decisions to begin the recovery of the economy.

The numbers on the dole continue to go in a downward trajectory, albeit not as fast as would be preferable with over 300,000 still unemployed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pointed out yesterday almost 50,000 jobs were created last year with a target of creating another 50,000 net new jobs this year and 50,000 next year.

Compared to the calamities that marked the final three years of the previous Fianna Fail-led administration, the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government has managed to return a degree of stability to the country.

Yet the relationship between the coalition parties appears to be continually fraught.

Nothing has happened so far of the magnitude of the clash over Budget 2012, where Labour had to contemplate walking out after Fine Gael shot down their wealth tax proposals.

A year ago this week, a genuine crisis was averted with the promissory note deal.

And the nervy days of the first few months when the new Government was getting to grips with the task at hand are long forgotten.

Since the exit from the bailout though, the parties have been ploughing their own furrows to a greater degree.

Following on from the usual tit-for-tat in Budget 2014, there have been spats over not sharing the spotlight on the departure of the troika, the pace of legal services reforms, the priority of gay marriage, the reshuffle and medical card probity figures.

The manner in which Pat Rabbitte had to be shafted by Enda Kenny over the pylons review came about more by accident than design, but didn't really help the harmony.

The latest faultline is the property tax, with Labour pitching to cut it as a local election ploy and Fine Gael questioning how they plan to make savings.

The reform of the health service is also becoming increasingly tetchy.

Labour is growing frustrated at the slow pace of the rollout of Universal Health Insurance and has lost confidence in the ability of Health Minister James Reilly to see the task through.

Fine Gael's bete noire continues to be Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and the belief that Labour has too narrow a focus on social welfare and isn't doing enough to pitch policies to those in the workforce.

Labour is spoiling for a fight and it never takes much to get a reaction from Fine Gael.

The difficulty for both parties is the loss of concentration will damage their ability to carry on with the task of reducing unemployment and creating jobs – the true barometer of the success or failure of this Government.

Parties in power are always nervous about mid-term elections and the intensification of hostilities is influenced by the forthcoming local and European election.

Labour's desire to carve out its own identity means it wants to create some distance from Fine Gael.

As the larger party in the Coalition, Fine Gael is less concerned.

The party knows it will need Labour transfers to achieve its goals in the elections, which also includes minimising losses.

Knowing a transfer pact historically doesn't benefit the smaller party, Labour has no intention of having an official deal with Fine Gael on votes.

But Fine Gael is quite happy to remind the public of its association with Labour by calling on its supporters to transfer to their Coalition partners.

In doing so, Fine Gael is hoping to get a return from Labour voters.

Attaching themselves at the hip to Labour, Fine Gael see a profit.

But for Labour it's a kiss of death.

Irish Independent

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