Belfast Telegraph

Bailout signals the end for Fianna Fail

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is a political dead man walking. It is not a question of whether he steps down as leader of the country and also of Fianna Fail, but when. He would like it to be some time in December after the coalition government has delivered its austerity budget. There are many others, including some in his own party, who want him out sooner.

History may show that he was somewhat unlucky, as the basis for the current economic chaos in the Republic was laid before he took over as head of the government. But matters came to a head during his watch and much of the public anger is directed at him.

Of course, he did not help matters by denying right up until the end that he would seek a bailout from his European partners - even while he was discussing how it could be implemented.

On top of the loss of face for the country, the public feels that it was misled by the government and by the banks over the size of the toxic debts facing them. It is now clear that successive governments did very little to regulate the banks' lending, with disastrous consequences. As well, an atmosphere of cronyism seemed to pervade practically every avenue of public and civic life, with a golden circle of people profiting most from the wealth created during the Celtic Tiger days.

Now, of course, it is ordinary people who will have to carry the can for the huge EU bailout, including a very generous £7bn from the UK.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, made it clear that the Republic is regarded as a very important trading partner - it is the fifth largest market for UK goods - and that it will be assisted in its hour of need.

There is a temptation on this side of the border to smirk at the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, but we need to remember that southern investors have a large stake in the Northern Ireland property market and the recession in the Republic is likely to see house prices here continue to slide for some time - the average cost of a home has now fallen below £150,000.

As well, belt-tightening by ordinary families in the Republic means that retailers in border towns like Newry, Enniskillen and Londonderry may lose very valuable customers in the coming year.

With an Irish general election looking likely in January, we are now witnessing the death throes of a very unpopular government.

Indeed, the fallout from the economic crisis is likely to be so severe that Fianna Fail could spend many years in the wilderness before returning to power.

For the natural party of government in the Republic that, perhaps, will be the most difficult burden to bear.

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