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Andrew Lynch: Best thing Gormley could do right now is tell Gogarty to shut up

At the last general election, the Green Party's key television broadcast featured a gang of cute kids earnestly imploring the viewer to "Vote for me!"

Three years on, the junior coalition partners may think they're just being consistent by threatening to bring down the Government down over education cuts.

What the Greens don't seem to realise is that we are now living in a completely different economic reality -- and with our future sovereignty depending on the decisions taken over the next few weeks, playing party politics as usual suggests they really need to grow up fast.

With the looming Budget now certain to contain at least €4.5bn of 'adjustments', and possibly an awful lot more, cuts to the overall education budget are absolutely inevitable.



CLASS

Since the Croke Park Agreement has made teachers' salaries untouchable for the time being, those cuts will have to be made to frontline services.

The options most commonly discussed are an increase in class sizes, a reduction in the capitation grant to schools and a doubling of third-level registration fees from €1,500 to €3,000.

Paul Gogarty, however, is having none of it.

The Greens' potty-mouthed education spokesman has become notorious for his colourful language, most memorably an interview in which he declared that his party were "lying bollix naked in bed, getting screwed by Fianna Fail".

The man who famously snarled "F**k you" in the Dail is now claiming that if these cuts go too deep, he and his colleagues will immediately put their clothes back on and give the electorate a chance to do some screwing instead.

Gogarty's basic defence is that all these areas were protected in the renewed programme for Government that FF and the Greens negotiated in October 2009.

What he fails to appreciate is that this was before our €50bn bank bailout bill, the doubling of our four-year budgetary target to €15bn and the dire warnings from Europe about what might happen if we don't get our act together.

The IMF may not be knocking at the door just yet, but it's no longer a complete fantasy -- and if the Greens don't like Brian Lenihan's cuts, they're nothing compared to what the men in grey suits would do to our education system if given half a chance.

That's why everybody in Leinster House, including Government and opposition, has to throw away their preconceptions and start thinking the unthinkable.



MADNESS

Eamon O Cuiv admitted over the weekend that his social welfare budget will suffer a big reduction on December 7, essentially confirming this newspaper's revelation last week that cuts in the old-age pension and unemployment benefit are being actively considered.

If the elderly and the unemployed are about to take a hit, then forcing an election over university fees will look like madness -- and send a signal to the outside world that the Irish just aren't capable of governing themselves any more.

The Greens have always been upfront about stating that they never wanted to form a Government with FF in the first place.

Ever since he heroically accepted his ministerial salary back in 2007, John Gormley has been quietly looking for an issue that will give him the perfect excuse to pull the plug.

He rightly feels that the party's only chance of survival at the next election is to withdraw on a point of principle that will galvanise their traditional supporters and save at least a couple of their six Dail seats.

Right now, however, the economic situation is so desperate that the future of the Green Party should be the least of our worries.



PACKAGE

The best thing Gormley could do is tell Paul Gogarty to shut up, admit that the programme for Government is no longer a realistic target and agree a Budget package that will buy the country some time with those all-important financial markets.

The children in that party political broadcast are growing up fast -- and if their leaders don't stop playing these petty political games, the country will be destroyed before it's time to pass it on to the next generation.


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