Friday 28 October 2016

Price for stability could be a 'Grand Coalition'

Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin Photo: Tom Burke

Despite all the current bluster and past history behind them, there is a hair's breadth between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in real policy terms and their overall philosophies.

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They know it and the electorate knows it, which makes the prospect of a six-week, pre-election game of who-will-you-not-go-into-coalition-with as tiresome as it is predictable.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who is arguably half-way through a painful rehabilitation process for his party, is under the most pressure to rule in or out potential coalition partners.

But he is not the only party leader dancing furtively around the grand coalition maypole.

Mr Martin does not have the luxury of ruling any prospect out. And he is under intense, open pressure from senior party members to consider entering into a partnership with Fine Gael to ensure what voters want most - stability.

Fine Gael, which is seeking to ape Fianna Fáil's previous record as the dominant party in government over successive electoral cycles, is throwing high-pitched shapes at Fianna Fáil over Sinn Féin's political overtures to Mr Martin to join forces after the election.

The rallying cry against the threat of Sinn Féin in Government is one of Fine Gael's stronger, if at times overplayed, calling cards.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Martin also know that for all Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams's ambitions to be Taoiseach, Sinn Féin would happily accept the role of minor coalition partner in any future government.

Sinn Féin would also relish the prospect of becoming the largest party in opposition after the election.

That, in any democracy, is a critical role and one that neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil would want to cede to Sinn Féin.

It's a difficult circle to square. But if economic stability is the national goal, all options are on the table, including a once unthinkable alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Action is needed now to protect all our privacy

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald's decision to review laws allowing gardaí and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to access journalists' phone records without first seeking permission from a judge is welcome, if long overdue. The review is, however, somewhat disingenuous in circumstances where successive justice ministers have been on notice for years that the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 would not - and did not - contain sufficient safeguards to protect the privacy rights of citizens and journalists. 

Of equal concern is the investigative priorities of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and GSOC, which have employed draconian and potentially unconstitutional laws to investigate matters - alleged media leaks - that arguably fail to meet the legal threshold of prevention of serious offences and protection of the security of the State and human life.

The whole affair smacks of a contempt towards press freedom and the privacy rights of all citizens.

Untrammelled, unreviewable access to journalists' records is anathema to the public interest: Ms Fitzgerald needs to swiftly put her planned review into action.

Irish Independent

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