Belfast Telegraph

View from Dublin: We need an election now like a hole in head

By Richard Curran

The country is inching ever closer towards a general election. Assuming there is a new leader of Fine Gael in the coming weeks, a poll could be triggered very easily after that.

But would an election be good for business? Looking at opinion polls, an election is unlikely to deliver a radically different result in the make-up of the Dail.

Micheal Martin might be Taoiseach in a minority government or a new Fine Gael leader might be Taoiseach in a repeat of the current minority arrangement. But for business and the economy, it is all about the lost time in getting to that point.

For business, time is money and uncertainty is usually bad business. An election campaign would take everybody's focus away from the key economic challenges of Brexit, Trump and the future of foreign direct investment. The country is also facing a rising oil price on global markets, and recovery in the eurozone which might precipitate higher interest rates and a higher cost of raising sovereign debt on the bond market.

After the campaign, the political choreography of coalition talks would follow and then a negotiation of a new programme for government.

Add on the new faces around the cabinet table, who need to read into their briefs, plus the requisite changes to the roles of various government departments.

In all, up to half-a-year could be lost while the Brexit problem trundles on and is negotiated in Brussels and London.

Our political leaders could end up haggling over the support of an Independent TD in return for a hospital unit, while the future of the trading relationship with one of our most important trade partners is hammered out elsewhere.

A general election might clear the air. But a close result might clear little else.

Fianna Fail's policy documents are not that radically different from what we have now and it is hard to see a radical change in government direction even under a new Fine Gael leader.

Fianna Fail's business policies last time out were made up of very expensive promises. It included reform of the USC at a cost of €2.6bn; equal tax treatment of the self-employed and PAYE at a cost of €123m per year; entrepreneurs capital gains tax reduction up to €15m at a cost of €74m and extending Job Seekers Benefit to the self-employed at a cost of €93m.

It promised to remove loan restrictions on credit unions and let them enter the mortgage market and bring back the Motor Insurance Advisory Board, which has been recommended by an Oireachtas committee but isn't yet government policy.

It also proposed selling off EBS separately from AIB. Some of these ideas are very positive for business and for consumers but would a coalition government get them through at a time of such other hefty demands on the exchequer?

Political parties can't help themselves from making lavish promises that cannot be delivered. Fianna Fail said last time out it would set a target of 98% of all capital expenditure being spent on goods and services provided by domestic Irish contractors - a sort of "putting Ireland first", as it were.

Aside from squaring this one off with European Commission tendering rules, you have to ask how it stacks up with the goal of delivering the best value for money. Any change of approach on Brexit under a new government or new Taoiseach could be significant.

Belfast Telegraph