| 3.7°C Dublin

Megaphones and the reality

The prospect of single-party government is one that, understandably, frightens sections of our society. For some, it challenges the political principle of not having a watchdog or a restraining hand on the major partner. Inevitable tensions associated with such a marriage are viewed as being worth the price of better governance.

For others, the prospect of a single-party Fine Gael government carrying out policies that will involve financial pain for so many workers is abhorrent.

There are two central issues in the heated debate now flaring between the unions and the party that will lead the next government.

The first is that if Fine Gael is, or is not, singled out for power by voters, it is going to be mandated, in large measure, to get on with the serious, severe and shocking cuts it has promised across the public service.

Under similar circumstances, it would also have substantial backing to increase taxes for hundreds of thousands. That is putting it simply. However, balancing cuts and taxation to allow as much economic growth as possible is a complicated, high-risk undertaking. It should not be undertaken, underestimated or undermined against a backdrop of divisiveness.

The second major issue is that unions are perfectly entitled to raise and activate their concerns. However, they too bear a heavy responsibility: that they do not scare people into losing sight of what has to be done, either by our own politicians or an outside force.

The unions were part of the old social partnership and had a strong vested interest in the course of the good times. There are people out there who know they got exceptionally good deals from the generous Bertie Ahern and his cohorts, who solved every problem by throwing property-related taxation money at it.

That narrow-focus sentiment of entitlement without commitment must never be allowed to gain precedence again. It is unfortunate that the lower-paid colleagues of the good-time beneficiaries are the ones most likely to be in the firing line, as well as the recipients of the services on which Ahern and his fellow travellers on the Tiger train spent so much money.

But there is now a need for real, national clarity and unity. Everybody -- union members, employers and the vast numbers without a job -- must realise we are all going to have to take pain. Otherwise, this country cannot survive economically.

Megaphone diplomacy will not dispel that reality. Nor will any attempt to frighten people off voting for those, of whatever party, who are prepared to do what has to be done.

Irish Independent