THE people of this country, so poorly served for so long by the political system, will have all the power in their hands for one day next week. What they decide in the general election on February 25 may shape their future for a generation.
At this midway point in the election campaign, the indications point to an excellent result, though not a clear win, for Fine Gael. Yesterday's 'Sunday Business Post'/Red C opinion poll gave the party 38pc popular support. If the apparent trend continues until polling day, without any major unexpected setbacks, Fine Gael could be on course to form our first single-party government for decades.
But even if this assessment is correct, it does not settle the questions what is the eventual outcome and what is the best result for the country. High on the list of what we need to restore our economy and our national self-respect is stable government. Essentially there are two possible ways to achieve it: a Fine Gael single-party government and a Fine Gael-Labour coalition.
In view of the policy divergences between these two parties -- real, but sometimes of doubtful relevance and exaggerated by the parties themselves -- the first option is surely better. But nobody should ignore the complications, or fail to question Fine Gael in particular on how to resolve them.
However favourable the present trends, the party is unlikely to win a majority of Dail seats. The options then, apart from a coalition with Labour, would boil down to outside support from Fianna Fail or an alliance with "like-minded" independent deputies. Reliance on an outside party is a very dubious course. The second option might be attractive if all independents resembled Shane Ross or Paul Sommerville, but there will as always be some who want to hold governments to ransom with private deals.
That must be resisted, and voters on the doorsteps must hold Fine Gael to a pledge to that effect. Voters need also to nail down all parties on questions of policy, and resist all temptations to believe easy promises.
On a key issue, public service reform, Fine Gael speaks of cutting 30,000 jobs, Labour of 18,000. Is there any reality in either of these figures? Fianna Fail's policies, for their part, are devoid of substance or credibility. At this time of all times, voters must demand honest answers on their desires and the country's needs.