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Aine Kerr: Erratic kingmakers avail of their chance to issue final shopping list

THE Government's erratic kingmakers have returned to the political stage to upset the consensus which has suddenly taken hold in the Dail.

In the aftermath of the draconian December Budget, Independent TD Michael Lowry was firmly behind the Government, saying he felt "duty bound to put the country's interests first" and save us from "irreparable reputational damage".

But with a general election now imminent, Mr Lowry yesterday intervened to declare that he and fellow Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae have "no obligation or responsibility" to support a dysfunctional government, and with it the Finance Bill.

The fate of the legislation -- which Mr Lowry deemed so crucial just 49 days ago -- now hangs in the balance.

The U-turn highlights again the unpredictability of Independents and their potential for 11th hour threats -- particularly when they are reaching the end of their affair with a disintegrating government.

Since 2007, the two Munster kingmakers have struck secret constituency deals and held the Government to ransom in exchange for tipping the Dail arithmetic in Fianna Fail's favour.

Again yesterday, they forced the Government into emergency crunch talks to try and secure just two votes.

Having cornered a vulnerable minority Government, the Independents went in armed with a shopping list of five items and secured one demand almost immediately.

The major playmakers in Fianna Fail, the Green Party, Fine Gael and Labour had been moving into the final act of this perfect two-week Greek tragedy when the menacing Independents jumped on stage.

With yet more demands, the two Independents became instantly relevant again and boosted their election profiles.

They are coming to the end of a 2007 deal which has secured hospital developments, road improvements and school extensions.

Throughout turbulent times the two Independents declared they had reached breaking points and rushed into fresh negotiations with the Government. Each time, predictably, they emerged declaring support for the Government and hinting at concessions. Accusations of 'cute hoor' politics followed but the Independents used the defence of "pragmatic politics". That sense of pragmatism resurfaced yesterday.

Temporary consensus is now on show between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens -- with Fine Gael and Labour singing harmonious lines about "facilitating" the passage of the Finance Bill but not "supporting" it.

Reams of legislation have now been scrapped and won't feature in the final acts of the 30th Dail.

Ambitious

Only 13 days ago, the Government published an ambitious list of 21 bills with top billing going to the Climate Change Bill, the Electoral Bill on Corporate Donations and the Dublin Mayoral Bill.

They would have been the crowning achievements of the Greens, but the legislation was sacrificed in exchange for accelerating the Finance Bill and triggering a general election.

The two Independents, who have secured major local concessions for almost four years and propped up the Government with the Greens, have made no such sacrifices.

Granted, they have already secured one important concession in the Finance Bill and they may secure more.

But the optics of 11th hour bargaining are difficult to digest at a time when most of the Dail has finally found consensus when stability and certainty is needed.

Irish Independent