Friday 13 December 2019

Editorial: Coalition must reinvent itself

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny

WE did not quite say 'Go in the name of God, go'. But an electorate who decided that yesterday would be 'Independents Day' has come close enough . . . and they are definitely saying it to Mr Gilmore who today resides in a similar lonely place to Michael Noonan in 2002. A similar response to Mr Noonan, who resigned by supper on that appalling day, would be appropriate for a leader steering Labour to a Green Party-style meltdown. Lest we forget, however, the loss of support of a quarter of the electorate represents a calamitous judgement by the public on both coalition parties for this is a fall in support that exceeds that suffered by Brian Cowen's Fianna Fail.

At a minimum, this result represents an attempt by the electorate to place a choke-chain on the gathering arrogance of a Coalition that appears to believe that it is in power by divine right rather than the consent of the electorate. It is also a warning that when it comes to the administration's fatal attraction to the less-than-la-Belle-Dame of austerity, we have reached the limits of toleration. Though our Government of apparent political slow learners has ignored similar 'wallops' in the Dail inquiries and Seanad referenda, the increasingly incipient general election and the starkness of yesterday's judgement may serve to sharpen their hearing. Others who might need to learn the virtues of the listening heart are Sinn Fein, who for all their premature celebrations today learnt the hard way that when it comes to securing the support of the electorate a Provo glass ceiling still exists.

Today's rout is likely to have immediate consequences within the political confines of Leinster House. Their comparative performances are likely to intensify the already growing tensions between the coalition partners. In particular, it is likely to increase the volume of those increasingly panicky calls on the Taoiseach for a speedy pre-summer recess reshuffle that Mr Kenny has, wisely enough, shown little enthusiasm for.

These, however, are mere tactical issues that can only be resolved by a major strategic U-turn within the Coalition ranks. In fairness, the Government has in this regard shown some limited recognition of its increasingly endangered status courtesy of a bright new minted concern for middle Ireland.

With this in mind they should see today's result as a final warning from the private sector that it will vote Sinn Fein if the Coalition continues to pet the public sector while raiding its pensions and crushing it with charges. Fine Gael is in now the firing line too.

On today's result, the major parties are in danger of being swept aside by Sinn Fein's seizure of the high moral ground. So far, all parties have left the heavy lifting on exposing Sinn Fein to the INM group. But we cannot continue to roll a rock up a hill alone while being subjected to the sneers of a Coalition which confines itself to cheap jibes at Sinn Fein instead of subjecting it to sustained close scrutiny as we have done for the past 30 years. In that regard, RTE needs a reality check.

Ultimately, the fundamental problem faced by this administration is spiritual rather than fiscal. In a less-than-compelling variant on the prayer of St Francis, when it comes to dealing with questioning citizens, its temper veers too much to the poisonous side of the equation. Where openness is needed, it is defensive. Where a graceful apology is required, at best there is absence. Where there is crisis too often we see confusion and where empathy is required, far too often we see incomprehension. All this has created an escalating sense of a Government that is at war with its own people.

Like Larkin's morally spendthrift parents they may be acting out of ignorance rather than malice aforethought, but negligence is not a defence in law and certainly not in politics. For today, the chief beneficiaries of this great repudiation are independents. Unless the Coalition can reinvent itself, the next beneficiaries of the gathering implosion of the Coalition will be the political opportunists of Sinn Fein.

Sunday Independent

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