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The time is coming for our own Berlin Wall to fall

IN old East Germany, elections were a foregone conclusion. Opposition parties did exist but they were puppet parties. So tame that they never opposed anything the communist dictatorship did and they even opposed real democracy when it came in 1989. But then as kidnappers know, victims tend to rationalise their captivity by sympathising with their abductors.

As it was in East Germany, so it is in Ireland: The vested interests -- many of them led by former admirers of the East German regime -- have captured the three main parties completely. So even though 60 to 80 per cent of the people oppose the Croke Park deal, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour support it. No wonder a quarter of voters don't know who to vote for. Fine Gael and Labour don't want the Wall to fall. They simply want the faces on the podium to change.

But our 1989 moment is coming soon. Taxpayers -- both front-line public workers and private workers -- are fed up with excruciating tax rises that fund State salaries far higher than their own. The salaries of a politburo of useless insider apparatchiks who cling to power by manipulating what looks like a democracy but is in fact a one-party system.

In 1987 this tyranny was briefly broken, with amazing results. Alan Dukes tore down our system of civil war politics by supporting a minority government from Opposition. It was like our own Berlin Wall coming down and, if its later years proved to be illusory, the Celtic Tiger growth that occurred between 1987 and 2005 had its foundations laid by this decision.

From opposing parties, Alan Dukes and Ray MacSharry worked together to lift a nation out of desperation. Des O'Malley, Ruairi Quinn and Richard Bruton also helped. By giving taxpayers an alternative, O'Malley kept Dukes and MacSharry in check while by skilfully managing our entry into the eurozone years later, Quinn and Bruton showed how -- when they inherit a well managed economy -- a Fine Gael/Labour coalition can do well.

That, sadly, is not the case now. Compared to the 10 per cent a year growth enjoyed by Quinn and Bruton, Gilmore and Kenny will be lucky to get any growth at all. No,their experience is going to be much more like the hapless experience of Garrett FitzGerald and Dick Spring.

By 1987 their crisis-ridden administration had left us with living standards that, in terms of GDP per capita relative to Europe, were where they had been 30 years previously, 30 per cent below the EU average. Even after this awful crisis, those living standards are 25 per cent above that average.

In 1987, our debt-to-GDP ratio was 112 per cent. In his latest incarnation as the man appointed to sort out Anglo Irish Bank, Alan Dukes warned the incoming government of billions more to be pumped into Anglo Irish Bank, yet another reason for Fine Gael and Labour to think again. But even if Dukes is right, our debt level is unlikely to rise above the peak recorded in 1987.

What about unemployment? At 13.4 per cent, the current rate is still better than the 17.6 per cent peak of 1987. And with 220,000 immigrants working here, the 248,000 unemployed Irish workers arguably could have jobs but are either unwilling or less competitive than immigrants. That was not the case in 1987 when there were no jobs to be had by anyone.

Finally, Ireland's population was 3.6 million in 1987. Even with net emigration of 50,000, population growth will keep our population broadly steady at 4.4 million. In 1987, by contrast, Ireland was experiencing the first population fall since the Fifties.

What about 1997? In that year, our debt level was on the threshold of falling below 60 per cent of GDP, thanks to Ruairi Quinn's competence. But it was also thanks to growth of 10 per cent a year, a growth rate of which the heavy lifting was done by Dukes and MacSharry. The unemployment rate was 10.3 per cent, apparently better than the current rate of 13.4 per cent but -- because of the point made about immigration -- not really that much better.

But the real question is whether Kenny and Gilmore will be like FitzGerald and Spring or Bruton and Quinn. The former duo inherited a mess created by a Fianna Fail government just as abysmal as the current one. By contrast, the latter benefitted from seven years of good government.

In case you think the parallels with eastern Europe are far-fetched, think again. Mike Jennings heads the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT). As Brian Hanley and Scott Millar's excellent book The Lost Revolution points out, Mike Jennings was one of the Workers' Party luminaries who in 1982 opposed a motion expressing support for the Polish union Solidarity in its fight for democracy and worker's rights against a repressive military dictatorship (Mike's excuse was that Solidarity was too Catholic).

But he fully supports union power to fleece the taxpayer -- via the Croke Park deal -- to fund academic salaries that are not just the highest in Europe but are up to 60 per cent higher than in comparable economies like The Netherlands.

In 1982, Eamon Gilmore was a fellow traveller. A grown man in his mid-twenties, Gilmore remained silent about his party's support for disgusting regimes in eastern Europe. Will he be similarly silent about the Stalinist tyranny imposed on taxpayers by the Croke Park deal, a deal forcing private sector taxpayers to fund State salaries that -- according to public sector figures (CSO) -- are 47 per cent higher than their own?

Perhaps it is time for a new strategy -- let's call it the 'Coleman strategy'. After disgracing itself, Fianna Fail should give Fine Gael two years' support from the Opposition benches. Once he has apologised for his silence in the Eighties, Eamon Gilmore would then have a good prospect of being Ireland's first Labour Taoiseach in 2013, the centenary of the Dublin lock-out. No Labour leader could wish for more.

Marc Coleman presents 'Coleman at Large' on Newstalk, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10pm (on twitter @colemanatlarge)

Sunday Independent