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Fear at heart of Coalition as Judgment Day looms


PRESCIENT: Leo Varadkar has realised that Ireland’s crisis is psychological rather than fiscal

PRESCIENT: Leo Varadkar has realised that Ireland’s crisis is psychological rather than fiscal

PRESCIENT: Leo Varadkar has realised that Ireland’s crisis is psychological rather than fiscal

The Coalition is awaiting the anti-water charges march on December 10 with much trepidation.

In a rapidly moving political front-line, the water charges rebellion is already morphing into a referendum on the Coalition, crossed with a declaration of war on the iniquitous USC tax, or the property tax and whatever else you might be giving out about.

As the Coalition races around in ever-decreasing political circles, the one crumb of comfort our poor thumb-sucking Fine Gael TDs can hold on to is that, finally, some at the heart of Government are getting it.

The current awful dilemma was most effectively summed up by Leo Varadkar's admission last week that while 2014 had been a good year for Ireland, it has been a terrible one for the Government.

By any rational standards, the list of Coalition achievements that the health minister detailed was impressive. Employment, exports, average incomes and retail sales are all up. Unemployment, the deficit, emigration, the debt and mortgage arrears are all down.

The source of the Coalition's woes was defined by Varadkar's admission that ''up until now, for obvious reasons, our focus has been on deficit targets, spending ceilings, employment control frameworks, business sentiment, bond yields and debt-to-GDP ratios''.

The problem, you see, with all of these things is that while they are important, they do not appeal to the heart.

And in a country made heartsick by the dust bowl of austerity - and increasingly bitter by the suspicion that insiders have stabbed the people in the back to rescue their fellow insiders - that is the fatal political flaw.

It is the source of existential angst where an utterly alienated public is actually angered by Enda's declarations of success. Like the cockerel on the dung heap praising himself for the sight of the sun coming up, Enda can crow away about how Ireland is the best small country in the world to do business. The poor workers stuck in the dung heap, however, are more concerned about how Ireland appears to be the worst small country to live in.

Mr Varadkar, at least, understands that the lesson of 2014 is that the dry bread of good GDP figures will not secure the second term he believes the Government "deserves".

Many will question whether an administration that has so thoroughly squandered such a vast mandate actually does deserve to be re-elected.

But, the case set out by Varadkar suggests the Coalition merits a better hearing from the electorate.

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As of now it appears the voters are intent on delivering the same Armageddon on this Government as was visited upon Brian Cowen's.

For that not to happen, Varadkar admits: ''From now on, we will pay much more attention to public confidence and trust.''

It is an admission that will carry some weight, for Mr Varadkar will never be confused with some flibbertigibbet of a political romantic.

His warning that a new politics of hearts and minds is needed is resolutely pragmatic. In truth, the most astonishing feature of the apparent inability of his colleagues to realise GDP does not provide food for the souls of the voters is that there is nothing new about their travails.

Politics across all countries always consists, to some degree, of a battle between the id and the ego. And in Ireland when it comes to such battles, Fianna Fail's capacity to seduce the national id has always trumped the Fine Gael and Labour Nordic-style appeal to the more responsible ego.

Nothing epitomised the regularity of this in Irish politics more than the election of 1997 where Bertie trumped the good children of the Rainbow with his "people before politics" message.

Astonishingly, given that it has obsessed about 1997 so much, the Coalition has forgotten and has learnt nothing from the past, and is now odds-on to repeat the self-same error.

Were we one of those rational Nordic countries, the puritan instincts of the Coalition might stand a chance. Paddy and Patricia, however, have always preferred to hang around with the bad lads as distinct to that neat Brendan Howlin and his clean copy book.

Still, at least Mr Varadkar has realised Ireland's crisis is psychological rather than fiscal. Like a neglected spouse, Paddy has decided he needs to be cherished, seduced and told he is worth it, as distinct to the current currency of being patronised, talked down to and told he has no option other than the cold lovers of Fine Gael and Labour.

In Irish politics, however, there is always another option. And, ironically, even if the Coalition sets about the unpleasant task of seducing Paddy, it may be too late.

The voters have already smelled the Coalition's fear, and, like the dog that cannot resist a trembling postman, they have started to snarl at the Coalition just for the sheer fun of it.

December 10 will tell if voters intend to continue the chase, or allow the poor fatigued Coalition - which has experienced the worst of times in what was supposed to be the best of years - to limp into the Christmas break.

The concern amongst more astute observers is that thronged streets on the much feared Judgment Day may plunge the Coalition into a political death spiral.

Sadly, in that regard, a terribly delicate issue has arisen - increasingly Fine Gael is asking: can Kenny win a battle for the voters' hearts and minds?

If hope can be found on the Enda front - and that is becoming increasingly difficult - Fine Gael may take some solace from the ongoing equivocal state of politics.

A government's term of office can be compared to a 5,000-metre race.

When it comes to the finish line, this one being keenly anticipated as 2016, usually by then some parties would have removed themselves from the race.

Intriguingly, on this occasion, just as the bell starts, someone somehow has tripped the entire field up.

As they lie sprawled across the track, for now nobody knows who might secure the prize.

Increasingly though, Varadkar's warning that the next election was going to be fought out between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein is looking prescient.

The great unanswered question in that regard, however, is whether Enda has the tools to sort out that particular job.