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Are there any statesmen left?

IF you thought it was safe to lift your head from under the covers after the resignation of Brian Cowen and agreement to rush through the Finance Bill -- think again.

Incredible as it seems, a new crisis has erupted with the decision of the Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae to present a "wish list" watering down the Finance Bill. It is quite an achievement to make Greece look like a haven of political stability, but that is what is happening. The country's growing reputation for insanity can only be enhanced by these developments.

It is all a direct result of the shambolic handling of the date of the election and the leadership of Fianna Fail, even though the Finance Bill might always have been too much for the Independents. This month's pay packets have shown people just how severe is the impact of the new social charge and the reduction in tax credits. Backing this bill is bound to be unpopular. Yet, under normal circumstances, the Government might have been able to resist such pressures, in the course of prolonged debate. It might even have dared risk an election by standing on the need to fix the public finances. Unlikely with this Government, many will say, but not impossible.

The emerging situation, however, is impossible. The Finance Bill is the last act of this Dail. If it is to be passed, it must be done by next week. The Government has no majority. Unless our senior politicians show the responsibility which has so far been sadly lacking, serious damage could be done to the process of correcting the public finances.

There were two practical choices facing the political establishment. The bill could be allowed to lapse, to be picked up by the next government. Alternatively, because of the effect which this might have on opinion abroad, it could be passed quickly before an election.

This was the course forced by Fine Gael and Labour. That should have implied that they were also taking on the inevitable mantle of government and preparing for office. In our view, that means they must stand behind the target for €17bn Exchequer borrowing this year.

Seventeen billion -- even after the tax rises, the new charge and the spending cuts. In such circumstances, there is no room for the kind of grandstanding which, not unnaturally, can be expected from Independent TDs looking to save their seats. It is up to the major parties to put a stop to it.

The truth is that Fine Gael and Labour are already in control of the 31st Dail. It is time for them to act accordingly.

Irish Independent