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Coalition bickering serves none of us

IN THE zany world of rock bands they used to call it 'musical differences'.

In the equally strange but more prosaic world of parliamentary politics they often call it 'a difference of emphasis'.

To most of the rest of us these euphemisms refer to disputes, rows and splits, which can be damaging and lead to serious trouble. This Fine Gael-Labour Coalition is showing the signs of strain on a number of headings and the latest source of tension is a serious cause for alarm.

In summary the issue is this: the Government-European Central Bank deal offers an opportunity to give citizens an easing of austerity. Labour has come right out and said the Government should use the proceeds of the deal to do something on tax and welfare; Fine Gael is vastly more cautious.

In the Dail yesterday Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin spoke of the need for "a social dividend" for Irish people who are "carrying an enormous burden". Mr Howlin was following on from statements made by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton on Wednesday when she argued that we are close to the limits of austerity and headed to a point where such policies are counterproductive.

Ms Burton was contradicted by her Dublin West colleague, Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael, who also sits at the same cabinet table. For Mr Varadkar, Ireland's welfare rates remain too high along with public service pay and the country is borrowing to fund both.

It clearly suits their parties to give themselves more definition and renew credibility with their disillusioned grass roots supporters. It may suit Labour more because its support is cut to its core.

There are valid points for both lines of argument. But, more importantly and immediately, these two ministers are playing a dangerous public game which could lead to calamity.

It is true that governments, like rock bands, come and go. But right now, more than any other time, Ireland needs a stable government.

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