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Andrew Lynch: Set an election date. This Government is finished

There will be blood. The title of Daniel Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning movie is also the perfect summary of what we can expect from Brian Lenihan's €6bn Budget next month.

Last weekend the clocks went back an hour -- but on December 7, the Minister for Finance will be forced to turn our entire economy back 20 years or more.

Meanwhile, the public are crying out for blood of a very different kind.

With Brian Cowen's Dail majority gradually melting away, the case for a general election early next year has now become overwhelming.

We may be in for a miserable few years no matter who's in power -- but we'd be better off with a government with a clear mandate from the people.

The last week in Leinster House has been one of the most tense that anyone can remember.

It began with Mary Harney being covered in red paint by a Provo-loving protester, continued with Jim McDaid's shock resignation and ended with the High Court ordering Cowen to stop messing around and call at least one of the by-elections.

There was even a mad rumour doing the rounds yesterday that the Taoiseach had given up all hope and would resign live on the Six-One News.

However, all of these are mere sideshows compared to the looming iceberg of Lenihan's budget.

It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, everybody was worried about a €3bn package of spending cuts and tax increases.

Unthinkable

Now the figure is exactly double that -- meaning previously unthinkable measures such as reducing the old-age pension, doubling college fees and taxing people on the minimum wage are now all on the agenda.

Lenihan deserves some credit for having the guts to frontload the pain in such spectacular fashion, although he may have had little choice with EU Commissioner Olli Rehn breathing down his neck.

A €6bn bumper budget will turn the Minister into the Grinch who stole Christmas, but it does at least mean that the worst should be over by the end of this year.

It's also politically brave, given that this is almost certainly the last budget he'll get to present before a general election in which his own Dail seat is up for grabs.

However, the really scary thing is that even these brutal cuts may not be enough to convince the financial markets that Ireland deserves a break.

With the cost of our borrowing now over 7pc, the situation is terrifying close to breaking point. Mr Lenihan could go down in history as the last genuine Minister for Finance -- because if the IMF get their hands on us, anonymous bankers and investors will end up really running the show.

The overwhelming anger that has gripped the country is rooted in our sense of helplessness. At a time when the voters are crying out to have their say, the Government is using public money to go to court and prevent any more by-elections. We even have the bizarre spectacle of Cowen's coalition becoming completely dependent on Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae, one a known tax-dodger and the other resembling an extra from Killinaskully.

Nobody in Leinster House wants a general election before Christmas, least of all the opposition. If this budget is passed, however, then there will be no more excuses left -- and the government should at least have the decency to stop clinging to office purely for the sake of it.

Destiny

The best Christmas present that Cowen could give the country would be a general election date for January or February at the latest.

This would allow plenty of time for all the parties to publish their economic plans, have a comprehensive debate about them and then let the public make an informed choice.

It might not make us any less poor -- but it would at least take away the awful feeling that we no longer have any control over our own destiny.


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