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Coalition can't cast ethics aside

DOES this Government actually want to lose the referendum on the EU fiscal compact? The instinctive pragmatism of the Irish electorate means this unloved proposition should be carried, but the smirking arrogance of this administration over issues such as Mr Lowry's political acceptability is beginning to become a real problem for the advocates of a Yes vote.

When politicians begin to embrace a culture of equivocation, or worse still deceit, the only punishment the voters have is to take from them that which they most want. And in the absence of a looming election, that which our political elite most desire is the passing of the fiscal compact.

The amoral Coalition's position on Mr Lowry is all the more disappointing, for on his accession to power it was hoped that, despite his obvious intellectual flaws, Enda Kenny would embody the unimaginative but flinty integrity of a Liam Cosgrave. What a pity it therefore is that we instead appear to have got a smirking version of Bertie Ahern. Sometimes we too easily adopt a cynical attitude to politics. But even the most devoted political cynics would have been impressed by the display of oleaginous sycophancy on the Lowry issue -- a Justice Minister who has well learnt that the sort of ethical watchdog Mr Kenny prefers is a lapdog -- indulged in last week.

No amount of hysteria from Mr Shatter, though, could disguise the fact that Fine Gael is, when it comes to its relationship with Mr Lowry, engaging in the sort of appeasement, or at best tolerance, of the corrupt behaviour it condemned in opposition. On one level, Fine Gael's disreputable willingness to tolerate Mr Lowry is understandable, for Mr Kenny was visibly piqued 16 years ago over the uncovering of the activities of his then close political ally.

Labour's anxiety to curry favour with its Coalition partners is more puzzling. It is, of course, understandable that the smaller Coalition partner will tread carefully around the special relationship between the troika of Messrs Kenny, Hogan and Lowry. But, whilst we expect and generally get little more from Fine Gael than a refined version of the endemic cronyism that was the dominant characteristic of FF, Labour is expected to try harder.

The sophistry over Mr Lowry is, unfortunately, also just the latest example of how pulling the wool over its citizens' eyes has become such a dominant feature of this administration's character. It is now, for example, patently obvious that Mr Noonan's promissory note 'victory' was a political conceit which unravelled under the most cursory of economic examinations.

The Government now has serious questions to answer about an economic strategy which appears to be as ropy as its grasp of ethics. It would be wise in that regard to realise that whatever about the latter, if this administration continues to try to lead us down the garden path on the economy, it will reap a harvest of ashes. The unfortunate situation where it is starkly clear this administration's economic policies are as ineffectual as its ambitions to lead a moral regeneration of the State may offer a unique opportunity to a Labour party who, for all its fear of Sinn Fein, is being far more damaged by the antics of Fine Gael. If Labour wants to actually thrive in Government, now is the time for the party to drop the moral equivocation it too has embraced and, unlike Mr Shatter, become the watchdog that actually barks.

Sunday Independent