Leading article: The cost of Ireland's feckless government

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After today's general election, Ireland needs a government which can face the dreadful economic realities and manage austerity in a manner which is tough but as fair as possible. The previous administration, led by Fianna Fail, chortled to the public that they had never had it so good, but now a prolonged period of painful adversity lies ahead.

What is sought by Europe, by the financial markets and by a majority of Irish voters is a return to stability and a decisive rejection of reckless financial adventurism. The Irish plight is relatively straightforward: the government behaved fecklessly and now the country is broke. But the debt burden is tangled up with the obligations and responsibilities of euro membership. The Irish economy was bailed out last year by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund at a cost of €85bn (£72bn), but even this may be dwarfed by future emergency funding for other countries, such as Portugal.

The next Irish government will be seeking changes to the conditions of the bailout. But the IMF holds the purse-strings and will respond positively only to reasonable argument, and not to any hint of combativeness.

The key lesson of the election campaign is that a clear majority of voters recognise this. The biggest party, Fine Gael, has moved steadily ahead on a manifesto emphasising the need for restraint. The slightly more belligerent tone adopted by Labour, its nearest rival, has cost it support. About a quarter of voters will register their anger by supporting independent candidates and Sinn Fein. While the latter will win seats, its economic extremism means it will remain outside the national consensus.

Together in a coalition, Fine Gael and Labour should provide the stability which most Irish seek, though it is possible that Fine Gael could win a majority on its own. The worst outcome would be if Fine Gael were to seek support from independents. Some of these individuals are breathtakingly parochial: one once demanded a casino in his constituency. Fine Gael is thankfully unlikely to strike any such deal, for those days are over. Ireland has had its fill of casino politics.

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