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Andrew Lynch: Kenny and Gilmore have no excuse now for not making tough decisions

During his slightly bizarre RTE interview on the night of the election count, Enda Kenny declared, "Paddy likes to know what the story is". After yesterday's publication of a new Programme for Government, however, Paddy is really not much the wiser.

This is a document with precious little detail and an awful lot of fudge -- suggesting that Fine Gael and Labour want to get to know each other properly before making any truly life-changing decisions.

From the moment it became clear that FG would fall well short of 80 Dail seats, a two-party coalition became the only realistic outcome.


The negotiations were deliberately low-key, without any of the hissy fits and walk-outs that occurred when Fianna Fail and the Greens put their deal together in 2007.

Enda and Eamon's marriage was celebrated with a photo-shoot beside the bandstand in Herbert Park, suggesting that they intend to make sweet music together.

Given all that, the lack of specific commitments in this new document is more than a little worrying. The good news is that promises such as no increase in income tax or cuts in child benefit have been placed upfront. When it comes to more awkward issues such as property and water taxes, however, the details are vague and the timetable non-existent.

Enda Kenny may have spent the election campaign banging on about his five-point plan, but this coalition deal suggests that he's essentially going to implement Brian Cowen's four-year one.

This will require at least €3bn worth of cuts in next December's Budget -- and where that might come from is still anyone's guess.

The parties have agreed to cut around 25,000 public sector jobs but are still committed to the Croke Park agreement, while their much-trumpeted universal healthcare system won't be implemented until 2016 at the very earliest.

All this suggests that FG and Labour have decided to settle into their new home at Government Buildings and leave the heavy lifting until later. Splitting the Department of Finance in two is a smart move, making the new arrangement look like a genuine partnership.

While previous coalitions have made the Smithfield Horse Fair look tame by comparison, all the indications are that Kenny and Gilmore will have a harmonious working relationship.

With a Dail majority of almost 60 and a completely fragmented opposition, this should be one of the most stable governments we've ever had. As a result, they have absolutely no excuses for not making the hard decisions. After an election campaign in which FG and Labour seemed terrified of offending anyone, they should be more than happy to accept a short-term dip in popularity if it means getting the public finances back on track.

This does not mean that nothing can go wrong. Labour is already getting the jitters over a possible left-wing challenge from Sinn Fein, which means that FG must be careful not to take its new partners for granted.

Gilmore does not want to turn into an Irish version of Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader who was once the most popular British politician since Winston Churchill and is now on around 7pc in opinion polls.


One early flashpoint could be the presidential election -- because while it would make sense for FG and Labour to put forward a joint candidate, ambitious characters such as Mairead McGuinness and Michael D Higgins are not going to walk away without a fight.

Kenny and Gilmore cannot hide from the stark reality of our economic dilemma. We are still spending around €19bn a year more than we earn, while the cost of bailing out our toxic banks is €57bn and rising.

Enda Kenny has promised to lead "the best government ever". The Irish people will be more than happy to hold him to it.