Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Greens' bizarre half-exit sets up a weak Budget

John Gormley and the Greens made two constitutional blunders in their muddled and confused press conference yesterday. Firstly, they breached cabinet confidentiality and government agreement over their position on the financial package.

Second, they breached collective responsibility, supposedly still from within the Government, with their call for an election and their proposal as to when it should be declared. They must resign fully and not engage in bizarre half-resignation.

Their further pontifications do not make sense; they must give up the idea that they can set any political agenda.

The agenda will be set now by independents or disaffected Fianna Fail members, together with those who have pledged to give us better government.

The only person who can call an election is the Taoiseach. It is neither a party nor a government decision. Real democracy is at work and will not be stopped by deals. And that is the way of truth and transparency.

The big mistake on all sides is linking the General Election to the Budget and the fiscal deal with Europe and the IMF. The money issue is being resolved as we write. Europe is saving itself and the euro; and we are the tiny-but-important catalyst. There is no valid argument for passing the Budget first. Indeed, one suspects there are no valid arguments for passing the Budget as presently drafted.

One of the principal reasons for this is the fact that present indicators are that FF will introduce a weak Budget. This was crystal clear in Brian Lenihan's cowardly evasion of questions on Sunday. He would not answer on Croke Park and the minimum wage. He evaded all invitations to state a clear and courageous budgetary position.

He did this because his party presides over a profoundly weakened administration which, after two-and-a-half years of Brian Cowen's leadership, finds itself in confusion on almost every issue. Fianna Fail and the Green Party know their last defence is a weak Budget.

This is unacceptable to most Irish people. It should also be unacceptable to financial gurus from Europe, who are doing their utmost not to notice the sick and dying political elephant in their conference rooms. They may have kept a sharp eye on Irish banking disasters and the Government's failure to attract lenders. What they have not kept their eye on, and have great difficulty understanding, are the ins and outs of Irish politics and the disgraceful absence of leadership under which the Irish people have groaned as public and private debts sky-rocketed.

Only a newly elected Government can put forward the right Budget in the light of a done deal over our future funding. Only a newly elected Government can deal in a truthful and courageous way with the economy in the months ahead.

There is no guarantee that they will demonstrate the required courage or truthfulness. But they have a better chance than those they are likely to usurp. A roomful of gorillas would do better.

Of the options open to our parliament the least attractive was to put off the election. The administration was based on a partnership. This has now split and cannot be repaired. The administration was committed to public service reform; the reintroduction of public-service control over the country's management; and the break-up of the outside, semi-state and non-answerable quango-like structures that have cost us so much and yielded no good returns.

Much of this was pervaded by croneyism and the corruption in favour of Fianna Fail that seems an inescapable adjunct to the way it has ruled this country. It has to be terminated by a humiliating defeat.

What has gone on in the last 10 years demands the disinfecting of the body politic. The last two years have seen the progressive fracturing of the structure carefully but deviously built by Bertie Ahern. He was shrewd and skilful and lucky as well. Brian Cowen fumbled on the main issues and his main aide, Brian Lenihan, simply got most of the main issues wrong.

The idea of such people as these continuing in power for any longer than absolutely necessary is simply unacceptable.