Dan White: 6 steps we must now take to avoid meltdown

Dan White

With the Government on the brink of collapse and the IMF now running our financial affairs, we need to move quickly to avoid complete economic and political collapse. These are the six things we must now do.

1 Pass a Budget: Yes it's profoundly undemocratic that this utterly discredited Government is proposing to introduce a Budget on December 7. In an ideal world we would first have a general election and then the new government would bring in a budget. Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world.

Even if Brian Cowen were to call a general election today it would be early January before the new government was in place.

We don't have that sort of time. The first essential step out of the mess in which we now find ourselves is to get the Dail to pass a budget on December 7.

2 Sort out the banks once and for all: It beggars belief that, 26 months after the bank deposit guarantee, this Government still hasn't fixed our broken banking system. We must use the money available from the IMF to sort out the banks once and for all. This will involve finally shutting down such zombie banks as Anglo and Irish Nationwide and putting adequate capital into Bank of Ireland and AIB.

3 Set a strict timetable for passing the Finance Bill: Now that the Greens have finally pulled the plug, it is vital that this lame duck Government doesn't linger in office for a minute longer than is strictly necessary. When he kind of, sort of, announced that he would call an election after passing the Finance Bill, the legislation which gives legal effect to the Budget provisions, Taoiseach Brian Cowen was careful not to say when that might be. Not good enough.

Given that in previous years it has been as late as the following June before the Finance Bill has finally made it on to the statute book, this gives Cowen, or any possible successor, ample opportunity to delay the departure of this Government virtually indefinitely. No way. Instead this Government must give a firm commitment to have the Finance Bill passed by mid-January, even if it means the Dail has to sit over Christmas.

4 Fine Gael and Labour must tell us what they plan to do once they are in government: While Fine Gael has published a series of policy documents, Labour has been careful not to tell us what it proposes to do once it is in government.

Instead, party leader Eamon Gilmore has topped the opinion polls by shrewdly exploiting public anger at this Government's incompetence.

Unfortunately anger is not a policy. Given that their two parties are certain to be in government after the next general election, Gilmore and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny must now jointly come clean with the voters and tell us what they plan to do to sort out our current mess once they are in power.

We can no longer take the emerging Fine Gael/Labour coalition on trust.

5 Negotiate a deal with the EU and IMF: We can't draw down a cent of the estimated €90bn bailout package until we have negotiated a deal with the EU and the IMF.

This makes it vital that the negotiations for such a deal are concluded as quickly as possible. Given that Fianna Fail and the Greens are headed for a well-deserved spell on the opposition benches, Fine Gael and Labour representatives must be included in the negotiation team.

6 Hold a general election as soon as possible: Once the Budget and Finance Bill have been passed and a deal negotiated with the EU and the IMF, we must hold a general election as soon as possible.

While the Greens' demand for an election in January almost certainly sets an impossibly tight deadline, it should be possible to hold an election in February if theoutgoing Dail sits through Christmas to pass the Finance Bill.

This Government now resembles nothing so much as a rotting corpse. If it loiters in office past early February, the stench will become unbearable.