'It's the first day back.... here are the 8 challenges facing the new Dáil'
Published 27/09/2016 | 02:30
The 158 TDs start back this afternoon for the first full and real working term of Dáil Éireann since this hybrid Government was elected on May 6 last after 70 days of haggling. We have heard a lot about 'new politics', suggesting a partnership government, a real opposition role, with dialogue and consensus bringing us better government. In reality, we have seen too much 'old politics' of short-term interests and dreary sniping.
It will be exceptionally busy and there will be huge challenges for the Government and Fianna Fáil, who have agreed in opposition to underpin the minority coalition. But all parties must make a better effort to co-operate. These are the key challenges for all of the deputies:
1 SURVIVAL: The one agreement point for all TDs is that they do not want another election. Opinion polls tell us that another election would not end the current political deadlock. But not wanting an election will not of itself avoid one. All TDs need to engage their brains before they open their mouths.
2 BUDGET 2017: There is a dangerous assumption that this will pass in just two weeks from today, on October 11. But Fine Gael and the Independent ministers have to forge compromises. Fianna Fáil must not push their somewhat extravagant demands too far. There is only limited scope with about €1bn to spare. This is the acid test of 'new politics'.
3 THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT: Taoiseach Enda Kenny believed he had this one politically 'parked', with the Citizens' Assembly due to begin its work considering the issue of the 1983 constitutional ban on abortion on October 15. Ms Justice Mary Laffoy will guide a team of 99 citizens. But the AAA-PBP will have a Dáil motion on the issue next week, threatening further political divisions within Government.
4 PROJECT EAGLE: The Dáil Public Accounts Committee, led by Seán Fleming of Fianna Fáil, will examine the Comptroller & Auditor General's scathing report on the NAMA €1.6bn sale of distressed loans in the North. It is a very loaded issue. The Government must also launch a public inquiry amid a tangle of cross-border and other legal difficulties.
5 WATER CHARGES: The special Commission examining the issue is due to report in November. The big issue is Fianna Fáil's total about-face in seeking the abolition of charges, which they had backed since 2009. Fine Gael say this will devastate Irish Water and plans to overhaul Victorian sewerage and water supply facilities. This one could be a deal-breaker.
6 EDUCATION FUNDING: Previous governments ducked out of the issue of third-level funding. But the issue of investment in the sector cannot be ducked much longer. Again, Fianna Fáil say they will not tolerate a return of full-blown third-level fees. They want €100m extra from Exchequer funds.
7 PUBLIC SECTOR PAY: A Dublin Bus strike may be about to be resolved. But threats of a nationwide bus and rail strike linger. And all across the public sector workers are understandably looking for redress after eight years of austerity. But reason must prevail in meaningful negotiations. The Dáil must set a tone here in contributing to the national debate.
8 BREXIT AND NEW EU RELATIONSHIPS: This is the most important of all the tasks confronting the returning Dáil. We cite it at the end because it will really only kick into gear next year - if then. For Irish business, and especially indigenous business like food production, it is hard to exaggerate the potential fallout here. Unity, ideally cross-party agreement, is vital - if unlikely.
What's facing the parties as the new Dáil term begins?
Battered in last February's general election, the party is still on the same support level at around 25pc. They risk being seen as in office - but not in power, as Independents and Fianna Fáil steal their thunder. They need to assert their 'brand' in government. They must urgently address how and when Enda Kenny will exit the leadership.
A better than predicted election was followed by further support increases in opinion polls. After the 2011 general election threatened extinction, Micheál Martin is enjoying a renaissance. But recent polls suggest they may be stalling. And they must manage a delicate balancing act: facilitating government, but not getting too close.
Did famously to land four Government jobs after the election. But having real difficulties adjusting to the burdens of power. They have also communicated poorly among themselves and with Fine Gael. Junior minister John Halligan's antics have been a big problem.
Another new Dáil term, another set of historic allegations involving Gerry Adams, and another cry from the party that they are the victims. The difference now is that Mr Adams has for the first time spoken of his retirement from leadership after 33 years. He's just not saying when - but sooner would be better
With just seven TDs and five senators, they have it all to do. Party leader Brendan Howlin was still in Cabinet up until early May. They have a hard political row to hoe.
Reduced to two TDs after losing Stephen Donnelly, they are in the business of building. A hard slog lies ahead but their poll numbers of 4pc are encouraging.
Back from oblivion, with two TDs and one senator, they will continue to challenge.
ANTI-AUSTERITY ALLIANCE/PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT ALLIANCE
Encouraging poll numbers and strong Dáil presence offer choice on the left. But they still struggle to make common cause with other left-leaning deputies and groupings.
Other Independents: These are still the preferred choice of one in 10 voters. As diverse as the electorate itself.