Sunday 23 November 2014

James Downey: Enjoy Easter, Enda, but ponder chickens coming home to roost

Published 11/04/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Queen Elizabeth
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Queen Elizabeth

Seldom if ever have our politicians had a better right to an Easter break. They are worn out from three years of endless toil and trouble with precious little to show for it.

Now they can relax, stop worrying about reshuffles and elections, rediscover the joys of objective thought and reflection.

But of course they won't.

Politicians never cease to brood about reshuffles and elections, or their own prospects. And if they come close to objective analysis, they will find little to cheer them.

Enda Kenny's Government has been in office for three years. Its members have rarely had as much as five minutes for reflection. For their efforts the governing parties have been rewarded with one of the things they fear most, dismal opinion poll findings.

And such of them as find time to allow actual thoughts to flit across their minds can identify an occasion for the revival of the notorious phrase "this time it's different".

That phrase summed up the Celtic Tiger boom. All previous booms had ended in busts, big or small. As we lurched towards the precipice in 2006-08, for once it was going to be different. It was not.

This time, can it really be different – not in terms of the economy, but in terms of the public mood? Do the opinion polls reflect something more than predictable discontent – reflect a deeper, healthier reaction to the recent flood of scandals?

Certainly the strength or the reaction differs from the shrugs, the nods and winks, of the past. And no wonder. The scandals strike at the heart of the social order, justice and policing. They call for rapid and thorough investigation and repair. We cannot afford delay, or failure to allay suspicion.

But the political timetable could make a quick and satisfactory conclusion impossible.

Can the inquiries be concluded in the period between now and the general election? If not, the public mood could darken even further when the impression grows that the authorities have no real desire for openness or reform.

In that event the implications for Fine Gael and Labour, and the political system more generally, will be dismaying.

On present form, the two parties cannot win a Dail majority. Most likely, Fine Gael's position will improve, simply because of the lack of alternatives for the middle classes. The same, however, is not true for Labour. The numerous threats to this party include the rise of Sinn Fein and Independents and the Fianna Fail recovery.

And the planned reshuffle could make matters worse.

Brendan Howlin has performed stoically as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Nothing could be improved by giving his job to Eamon Gilmore, who has no known economic expertise.

Does anybody believe that James Reilly's grandiose plans for the health service will ever come to fruition? Will Alan Shatter remain Minister for Justice?

The Fianna Fail recovery, meanwhile, does not mean that the voters have forgiven the party. Instead, it shows the dearth of choices. It also shows the desperation of people willing to contemplate such a bizarre option as a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition.

Yet another discovery, seldom discussed, during the present Dail term has been the presence on the Independent benches of people who deserve to be taken seriously.

The terms left and right are no longer relevant, if they were ever relevant in Ireland. The real distinction is the age-old one between the Sensible and the Silly. There are plenty of sensible people, from Shane Ross to Catherine Murphy, among the Independents.

But they have no power. Power moved long ago from the people to the parliament to the executive to the leader to the bureaucracy.

One individual, however, does have real power: Enda Kenny.

Like most politicians, he works too hard and leaves himself no time to think. If he starts thinking, he must see that we are going through a democratic crisis fully equal to the economic one. Has he got it in him to replace the insidious culture which has continued to flourish under his own rule?

Have a thoughtful Easter break, Taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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