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Phoney war must end

WE may be living through historic times, but already there was a dreary predictability about the quality of debate as the first week in the election campaign came to a close.

The verdict has to be, so far, so bad.

In Ireland, politicians continued the phoney war trading punch and counter-punchlines. Pseudo-plans were presented as genuine policies, the cycle of spin quickly became irrelevant to people more preoccupied with how they were going to keep a roof over their heads, with interest rates rising and employment prospects evaporating.

Meanwhile, in Brussels grown-up politics was topping the agenda.

France and Germany are using their combined weight to drive other eurozone countries to sign up for a revolutionary series of measures to tackle the crippling debt crisis.

The matters being proposed by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy will transform the union, and cut right to the heart of government.

The indications are that an eventual pact could include: putting debt limits in national constitutions, raising retirement ages, and getting rid of salary increases tied to inflation.

They also seek to come up with some kind of framework to set up orderly ways to handle bank failures. The issue of corporation tax so critical to the Irish economy is also prominent in their thoughts.

Such interventions in how countries are run, with the prospect of stringent sanctions in the future, would be unprecedented.

Yet it says much about our predicament that with all these vital issues on the table, our own government is off the pitch, despite the presence of Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

The 30th Dail is already history. By the time final decisions are made at the end of March at a special EU summit, Mr Cowen will no longer even be a TD.

Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail have all spent the week setting out their competing stalls in the type of auction politics we have become so disillusioned with over the years.

Even though we have nothing, the parties continue to promise more. These are truly exceptional times. Business as usual will not do -- instead of the familiar jockeying for position, something more is required.

The spark of real leadership and a precise set of goals which hold out a genuine prospect of seeing us through this grave crisis has yet to emerge. These may be early days, but the fact that 26pc of the electorate remains "undecided" suggests that our politicians have a lot of convincing to do.

Irish Independent