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Time to end this farce

From tragedy to farce -- and all within just 48 hours. Ireland has been let down grievously by its politicians over the last three years, but never has the electorate been more ill served by its political masters than it was over the weekend.

What the public want, more than anything else, from the political establishment is clarity, certainty and decisiveness.

None of these qualities were in evidence either Saturday or yesterday as a trail of politicians engaged in cheap point scoring and needless blame-game politics. This was a great pity because the weekend began with an event that suggested clarity and stability had finally arrived.

The announcement on Saturday afternoon by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen that he was relinquishing the leadership of Fianna Fail seemed, on the surface, to end the incessant debate within his own party about his leadership. But in minutes it was clear that political clarity would remain elusive, as Cowen revealed he was departing as party leader, but staying on as Taoiseach until March 11. At the very least this was an unsatisfactory and messy arrangement, but worse was to come.

Yesterday the Green Party indicated it was not staying in government at all and would conduct its business from the opposition benches.

This decision effectively leaves the country is a highly vulnerable position politically, where nobody is even certain any longer whether the Government has the numbers to survive one more day, or more crucially to pass the vital Finance Bill 2011.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the Government now only has seven functioning ministers, following a spate of ministerial departures. Even the election date itself, set only days ago for March 11, is now open to question.

To top it all, the politicians from all parties cannot even agree on a timetable to pass the Finance Bill.

Amid all this noise and recrimination, Fianna Fail is attempting to hold a leadership contest, with many of the candidates reported to be interested in the post simply using the race as a way to boost their profiles, thereby protecting their seats.

The only response to all of this is to shout very loudly, enough!

This week the political establishment must stir itself into action, halt the pointless attacks and agree a short timetable to pass the Finance Bill. The bill is an important piece of financial legislation, dealing with vital issues relating to taxation, pensions and bank pay.

While a truncated debate over the bill is the correct approach, rushed legislation is rarely good legislation and the bill should be given a reasonable amount of parliamentary scrutiny. A two or three-day process to pass the bill should be possible.

It needs to be passed for good legal reasons of course, but also because not passing the bill would indicate to the outside world that the Irish political establishment can't even do basic political housekeeping anymore. Included in that outside world are our impatient lenders, the European Union and the IMF. One practical solution would be to agree a shortened, narrower form of the legislation and pass those measures within 48 hours. The more obtuse tax and pension changes could be approved at a future date when a new government is finally elected.

While it is impossible to say whether the charge is true or not, one must have some sympathy with the view that the Government is clinging on to power. It may not be true, but it certainly appears that way and the only group who should be making the final adjudication on the current administration is the public. But when will they get their chance? Soon, is all one can say at this point.

Ironically, the commencement of the election cycle might actually allow the entire country to concentrate on the real issues -- how to get a resumption of economic growth, how to fix the banks and the property market, how to keep our young people at home and how to preserve our living standards amid an economic slump that seems never ending.

Once that election cycle begins, we need no more lazy waffle, no more cheap party politicking and no more party before country. Instead it is time for some quality debate on real issues. In other words we need no repeat of the tawdry events of the last two days.

Irish Independent