Irish premier's mounting political problems. He faces criticism for handling of economy, signing Anglo-Irish accord
Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald's troubles are not over, despite his winning a close vote of confidence in parliament last week. The D'ail (lower house of the Irish Parliament) voted by a mere two-seat majority to support Dr. FitzGerald's government. During the vote several dissatisfied backbenchers -- including members of both FitzGerald's center-right Fine Gael party and the Labour Party, his coalition partners -- supported the government. This support may not last much longer.
The vote was seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with the FitzGerald government's performance, particularly in the economy. He has also been sharply criticized by Charles Haughey, leader of the opposition Fianna F'ail party, for signing the 1985 Anglo-Irish accord, which gives Ireland an advisory say in Northern Ireland's affairs. He says the accord has done little to improve the lot of the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.
A general election must be held by the end of 1987, and Fine Gael and Labour will act as separate parties with divergent policies. All the opinion polls indicate that whenever an election is called, Fianna F'ail is likely to gain a handsome majority.
FitzGerald desperately wants to remain in office as long as possible in the hope of an economic upturn -- and the outside chance that if his position improves he might hold enough seats in the next D'ail to head another coalition government with the help of the small Progressive Democratic Party.
But the general economic situation and the state of the public finances are such that his government will have difficulty in framing, let alone passing, a 1987 budget scheduled to be presented to the D'ail at the end of January.
Unemployment stands at 18 percent. Business confidence is low, and there has been an outflow of capital from the country. The 1986 budget deficit is roughly $2 billion -- 8 of GNP.
The 1987 target deficit of 7 percent of GNP, political observers say, cannot be attained without substantial cuts in public expenditure. Labour is likely to resist this. The other side of the dilemma is that if the deficit is not controlled, business confidence will be further harmed, along with prospects for industrial production and employment.
FitzGerald also has problems with his legislative program. Fianna F'ail is threatening to oppose a key piece of legislation.