The unprecedented - but expected. That's what happened in the Republic of Ireland this past week when Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald's coalition government fell and a general election was called for Feb. 17.
Behind the events lay a long-simmering budget dispute between the coalition's Labour and Fine Gael partners. The ministers of the minority Labour Party resigned from the Cabinet Jan. 20, after the long-predicted failure of the two parties to agree on proposals for the 1987 budget. Dr. FitzGerald the next day tendered his resignation to President Patrick Hillery, who in turn dissolved the Parliament, thus opening a four-week election campaign.
This denouement came one week before the budget was due to be presented to Parliament. It marks the first time in the history of the Irish Republic that a government has failed to agree on a budget to bring before Parliament.
Even so, it had been obvious for several months that the prospects for agreement between Labour and the major government party, the center-right Fine Gael, on the budget were close to zero. The failure to agree on a budget, and the consequent collapse of the government, though in themselves dramatic events, were the culmination of four years of failure to overcome the country's acute economic problems.
The coalition was elected in November 1982 on a platform that included a promise to eliminate the budget deficit. Far from being eliminated, the deficit and the government's domestic and foreign debt have grown consistently. In 1986, the deficit came to roughly $2 billion, 8.5 percent of Gross National Product (GNP). Even with the proposed cuts that led to the breakup of the government, the 1987 deficit would have been $1 billion, 7.4 percent of GNP. Servicing of debt, mostly foreign, will cost about $3.5 million in 1987. Ireland's foreign indebtedness per capita is the highest in the developed world.