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The politics of surrender reign

As the political year ends it would be no harm for politicians of all hues to remember the fate of "the young lady from Riga who went for a ride on a tiger".

Sadly the denouement of that particular adventure was that they returned "with the lady inside and a smile on the face of the tiger''. One group of politicians who are caressing a dangerous tiger are those independent and Sinn Fein TDs who are attempting to lead a campaign of civil disobedience to the new household tax.

In spite of the erratic performance of Environment Minister Phil Hogan, the ethical difference between convicted tax dodgers and those who would wilfully refuse to pay a tax, legitimately levied, for the public good, is hard to discern. It is bad enough that those TDs who are spearheading an invitation to the mob to come play in the Dail chamber are indulging in the sort of rancid politics of debased opportunism normally associated with Fianna Fail. But the spectacle is rendered all the more depressing by the realisation that, at a time when Ireland should be chilled to the bone by the warning by Fitch that the EU debt crisis may be "technically and politically beyond rescue'', all we get from our political establishment is self-indulgent shape-throwing.

The Fianna Fail variant of this particular vice is evidenced by Micheal Martin's dangerous dalliance with the seductive delights of Euroscepticism. In this regard, the FF leader would be wise to consider the fate of our unfortunate young lady from Riga, or the destruction wrought on the British Tory party by Euroscepticism.

What will be of even greater concern is the growing openness of our Government to the charge that it, too, has become far too keen to enjoy the outwardly easy life of riding the tiger of appeasing powerful vested interests. This certainly appears to be the dominant theme of its extraordinary laissez faire attitude to our usurious banks, for rarely can any failed business have ever enjoyed such dilettante majority shareholders. The politics of uncontested surrender appears to be afoot in plenty of other places too, for a vast chasm lies between the "democratic revolution" we were promised by Mr Kenny and the exquisite care that has been devoted to the retirement treats gentlemen such as Mr Cardiff have received.

Ultimately the question which will dominate Irish politics for the foreseeable future is whether, when it comes to the public service and Croke Park, the Government is engaged in a policy of appeasement or reform by stealth. The line is a fine one and the Coalition itself may not be too sure on occasions. But it is unnerving that having initially found the "social partner" tiger in a place where only their enemies would want it to be, SIPTU officials now have the temerity to warn Pat Rabbitte he is moving into "dangerous territory" should he even dare to question the golden calf of civil service increments.

In fairness, just as default is rather more attractive in theory than in practice, the woes of this State would not be eased by a reprise of the industrial wars of the 1970s. But when it comes to their relations with the public sector, our Coalition should also remember Wilde's warning about "feasting with panthers". A successful seduction can be intoxicating but the impure delights such as that unofficial SIPTU "travel fund" that seem to inevitably accompany the pursuit of our trade union panthers means such dalliances always end badly.

Sunday Independent