Friday 28 July 2017

'New politics' is not working at all - here are five ways to help it

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
John Downing

John Downing

So-called "new politics" is almost a year old. It might be too much to expect it to work without glitches. But the problem is that it is not really working at all.

As our TDs and senators take an extended Easter break, the better ones will reflect on how things could better function. Here are five suggestions, some of which are hidden in political plain view, others are less obvious.

*1 Make deals: Since the dawn of time good politicians have brokered compromises which have a chance of working out. Granted, some of these are on occasion squalid and self-serving - that's not the kind of deals we have in mind.

Good political deals help working people, people in business, and people in need of care, to live better lives. Good politicians have always made good deals to advance the common good. They know how to pass on party differences and look for results which can serve the common interest. Our Dáil adversarial system did not deliver too many cross-party deals. We expected "new politics" would do better. Let's see some evidence.

*2 Keep deals: The water charges row of the past week showed a deal of mistrust between the two big parties especially. Deals are often hard to make.

But once they are done - they must stick. The principals involved in deal-making have to live by the old maxims of word and bond. And once a deal is done, they have to sell it to their followers. These are principles to maintain necessary political stability.

Good political deals help working people, people in business, and people in need of care, to live better lives. Good politicians have always made good deals to advance the common good. Photo: Maxwell's
Good political deals help working people, people in business, and people in need of care, to live better lives. Good politicians have always made good deals to advance the common good. Photo: Maxwell's

*3 "Victory claims" only foment "rematches": The Coveney-Cowen conflicts have been billed as a set of conflicts with winners and losers. Their mutual claims of media exaggeration ring hollow.

Both have considerable political experience stretching back to childhood. They have not learnt that when you share power, you must avoid claiming wins as it only leaves the loser seeking a rematch which he or she must win. The outcome is mistrust and instability.

*4 Focus on the big picture: The water charges were a product of austere times. The growing popular revolt was more about cutback weariness than real opposition to the charges themselves. They have a big importance. But they were not, and will not be, paramount on the national agenda.

We have bigger issues. One wonders why the tens of thousands were not marching about 23pc VAT - basically one-quarter extra - on many things we buy.

Why is outrage about the large numbers of sick and the elderly people on hospital trolleys so sporadic and so quickly dissipated?

New politics risks becoming an excuse for losing focus.

*5 Remember international obligations: Long before "new politics" many of our politicians had a patchy record here. Countries that sign up to international arrangements must keep them.

The price of doing otherwise is becoming an international pariah with huge reputational damage which will impact on an ability to export, import, and attract multinational investment.

Ireland signed up to an EU water directive and later benefited from certain exemptions. Later we gave up these exemptions and also signed up to an EU-ECB-IMF bailout deal which included water charges. Development of our water supply is about guaranteeing future supplies which will not lead to rationing if it fails to rain for a summer fortnight in Dublin. It is also about preventing us from poisoning ourselves with inadequate and defective sewerage systems.

Irish Independent

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