New pay deal is in everyone's interest
Today marks the second anniversary of the general election that gave Fine Gael and Labour a huge Dail majority and swept Fianna Fail out of office – probably, as it then appeared, for decades.
But the governing parties have very little to celebrate, either in terms of the popularity that all politicians crave or in terms of concrete achievement.
The latest Red C opinion poll finds their public standing virtually unchanged. Evidently the deal on the notorious promissory notes has not impressed the voters. Yet this issue was both a major part of the Fianna Fail-Green government's toxic legacy and the subject of Finance Minister Michael Noonan's most intense work.
In addition, the poll confirms that the Fianna Fail revival is real and not ephemeral. In the absence of any proof that that party has mended its ways, this finding can only reflect disillusion-ment with Labour and, to a lesser extent, Fine Gael.
The disillusionment will not be cured in the short or medium term. It may well last all the way to the next general election. It would appear that this brutal reality has begun to dawn on the Government.
Its medium-term ambition is to restore growth. That has to mean more than detailed plans for the various sectors of the economy; it implies serious reforms and radical improvements in governance.
In the first place, a revised deal with the public sector unions is essential. In the current talks, no alternative is available to some version of "Croke Park 2". The unions know this. Jack O'Connor, president of SIPTU, warns of protracted strikes in the event of failure. That would be disastrous.
Despite the walk out from the talks by a number of unions last night, the negotiations continue on an extension of the existing agreement.
Mr O'Connor and the other unions staying around the table are to be commended for exploring all opportunities to negotiate a deal on behalf of their members.
Clearly, there are divided views within the trade union movement about the best approach to take in terms of participation in the talks at all. But it is difficult to see what can be achieved outside the door, while the negotiations on a settlement continue.
The economic challenges facing the country are too serious for grandstanding.
Ahead of the deadline of the end of February, the prospects of a deal still hang in the balance and genuine leadership is required from both sides.