Tuesday 20 February 2018

Grand coalition would honour spirit of 1916

Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny
Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny

Gay Mitchell

The people have spoken and they have given about 90 of the 158 Dáil seats to two political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The policy cleft between these parties emanates from the Treaty of 1921.

The differences between these parties are now tribal, managerial, personal and political but are not policy driven. The country needs sound and stable government offering policy that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil already agree on. We continue to live in dangerous times and are by no means out of the woods as far as our economy is concerned. Public/private/consumer debt worldwide now stands at $200 trillion, $60 trillion more than at the time of the recent crash.

Even if we do not again experience such a crash, cyclical recession will soon come our way. We need careful, hands-on, proactive management of the economy now more than ever if we are to put instability behind us, and give our country a vibrant future.

As economic recovery kicks in, it is evident that some people are being left behind.

The centenary commemoration of 1916, and later of 1919 and 1921, present us with an opportunity to make a greater reality of the radical aspirations the founders of our Republic set out to realise.

Though the recent fiscal and economic decisions were forced on us they show what radical action can achieve within a short time period.

In 1979, Taoiseach Charles Haughey identified the budgetary situation as unsustainable but four governments and a decade later the public finances still had not been brought under control. The statesmanlike action of Alan Dukes in supporting a Fíanna Fáil minority government to allow the necessary painful steps to recovery to be taken paid dividends. The Celtic Tiger years followed. This precedent shows that minority government can work.

The opportunity to put the country's best interests first, by radical political, fiscal, economic and social action now presents itself. The guidance for so doing may well be Bunreacht na hEireann.

Article 45 contains Directive Principles of Social Policy, the application of which "are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas" and "shall be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively".

These principles speak of securing the welfare of the people, equality for men and women, the operation of free competition and favouring private initiative in industry and commerce while protecting the public against unjust exploitation by private enterprise.

If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could negotiate a five- year programme setting out broad parameters of social policy, using Article 45 as its guiding influence, enterprise could be encouraged and the socially weak protected.That Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would, at a time of great national need, utilise De Valera's Constitution to serve the best social and economic interests of our Republic, which will soon commemorate the centenary of the fight for independence, is surely something which would please Collins and Cosgrave.

To ensure that an agreed programme is adhered to, a grand committee of Fine Gael and Fíanna Fáil could oversee its implementation over a five-year period.

In these circumstances, a minority Fine Gael government for, say, 32 months, followed by a Fíanna Fáil minority government for 28 months, would ensure continuity of fiscal, economic and social policy.

There is also a precedent for this. The Fianna Fáil/Labour government of 1992-94 was succeeded by the Fine Gael/Labour/Democratic Left government of 1994-97. There was no election and stable government was provided.

A two-phase government would also attract continued international confidence in our country by ensuring that we do not have a leader of the opposition pushing us towards an abyss.

Gay Mitchell is a former Fine Gael TD, MEP and Minister for European Affairs

Irish Independent

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