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PDs warn against change in economic policy

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Fianna Fail spent the weekend pondering June’s bruising local elections at Inchydoney, West Cork, where TDs gathered for the party’s annual September meeting. They heard from government arch-critic Fr. Sean Healy, who addressed the grouping as a guest.
Healy, joint head of the justice committee at the Council of Religious of Ireland, has been a consistent opponent of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition government and has accused it of having overseen an increase in poverty levels. His surprise invitation is thought to be part of a new strategy by Fianna Fail to paint itself as a party of social conscience.
Heavy losses in working-class districts in June’s elections prompted a summer of soul searching. Several prominent Fianna Failers have suggested that the Progressive Democrats, a party associated with right-wing economics, has exerted a disproportionate influence on government policy. They have called for a wholesale rethink within the party in order to avert further electoral losses to Sinn Fein and others in the future.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Labor have said they plan to put together an alternative government manifesto. Fine Gael, still buoyed by its gains in the local elections, believes it can build on disillusionment with the government. The two parties said they would do “whatever it takes” to agree on joint policy. The Green Party is expected to feature in the coalition plans.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen, who is tipped to inherit the finance portfolio in this month’s cabinet reshuffle, said he would welcome a proper debate with the opposition parties over economic policy though he raised questions about the chances of Fine Gael and Labor arriving at an agreed position.
Tanaiste Mary Harney, meanwhile, said the Progressive Democrats would leave government were Fianna Fail to embark on policies of “tax and spend.”
Speaking on radio Monday morning, Harney said: “If you’re asking me the question, will we stay in government regardless of the policies being implemented, of course we won’t.”
She warned that the government may collapse if Fianna Fail were to implement an “incoherent” approach to the economy. “[I]f we were to return to a tax-and-spend philosophy, if we were to put at risk the economic success, then I would think that would be a matter of fundamental principle that the PD’s could not go along with,” she said.
Harney echoed the comments of two other leading PD’s saying that the current government may not see out its full term. Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and Tom Parlon have both said in recent weeks that the coalition may have to fight an early Dail election.
However, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern moved to allay PD fears about future party policy saying that proposed increased spending on the poor and the elderly would not amount to a “spending spree.”
“Primarily, we have people in society that need help, the old, the disabled, people who are marginalized,” said Ahern. He qualified this by saying: “You can do more in health expenditure, you can do more with medical cards, disabilities, providing that you have the resources to do and there isn’t recourse to borrowing.”

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