OUTWARDLY, the Government is determined to put on a united front, especially with the fiscal compact referendum just a month away, the outcome of which is far from certain.
Irrespective of the outcome -- and it may be defeated -- there will be other challenges after that, notably the onward cycle of the economic crisis and attendant measures best described in a word: austerity.
In terms of the dynamic of the Government, however, everything has changed in these past few weeks. It has been described as the end of the "honeymoon" -- such a cliche -- the end of the beginning, so; but it many ways it is also the beginning of the end.
That is the nature of these things. Governments come and go. This one will go too, probably before full term. The great uncertainty is what will replace it.
Sinn Fein will have a say, but not as big a say as opinion polls might suggest; the independents are getting excited again. So too, one imagines, is Michael McDowell: a new political party, or movement, is inevitable, possibly incorporating Fianna Fail.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves. The Government is only a year old, a mere fledgling pup in dog years. In a way, it is reassuring that the cracks, which will be papered over, have already started to appear. It was too good to last. The cracks are showing, now that the spinning has finally stopped, or been exposed. For that, small mercies. For all the brouhaha these last few weeks, there is no crisis --not really, not yet -- but we can see that there are several in the making.
The vexed issue of media ownership may yet turn out to be one of them, whenever they decide
they can no longer kick that to touch -- which may be a while away yet, notwithstanding the events of last week.
There are other faultlines, too. Let us point the way. . .
In the end it will come down to this: to what extent Labour feels it will be annihilated at the next election. Nothing much has changed in that regard, then, despite the stated intention of all change this time; politics has reasserted its weary course, election to election.
The two men who will ultimately decide the fate of the Coalition, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, are likely to maintain good relations for a year or two yet, and to be seen to do so; they seem to get along well anyway, which is nice.
Other ministers of Fine Gael and Labour, particularly those who have served at cabinet before, also seem to interact well on a human level, which bodes well for the time being.
The great anomaly is something largely unspoken: perhaps half the Cabinet are unlikely to contest the next election. The pressure -- fracking, if you like -- will come from down the ranks, and eventually it will be unbearable, certainly on those who intend to run again.
After a year of spinning furiously, if nothing else these past few weeks have shown us that the Government is like all others that have gone before -- it is largely incompetent and infused with egos as big as, well, Big Phil, and as prickly as Mr Shatter. Arrogance is the word.
The household charge debacle is illustrative; the water charge debacle-in-waiting another; property tax, when it comes, will be the biggest of them all. Pay up and shut up. For this state of affairs, take a bow Phil Hogan, the so-called master of the dark arts.
Alan Shatter would fight his shadow if it did not prostrate itself on the pavement before him; and even then, he still likes to square up.
The Law Library, gardai and media, so far, have been his targets and achievement; that, and a referendum lost. We await the prosecution of a white-collar criminal, meanwhile. Allegedly. After due process.
James Reilly will do precious little and say virtually nothing at all until Terry Prone tells him what to say, and we pay, on the double (or is it treble?) for the pleasure of the soundbite, not to mention his various advisers raking it in at our expense to work away in the bowels of the Department of Health, or the HSE, doing what we do not know, but it is extremely important work.
The point is this: if you want to examine the faultlines, look no further than the Environment Minister Phil Hogan; the Justice Minister, Alan Shatter; and the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly.
Labour ministers, meanwhile, still seem to be infused with the zeal of those determined to leave their mark, which is admirable in a way, but bothersome in another.
Crusades of various 'liberal' matters aside -- abortion, gay marriage, the bells of the Angelus -- for Labour, the issue, the only issue upon which we may reach a verdict is this, and I love the word: 'reform' of the public sector, for which Brendan Howlin is responsible.
Where does all of this leave Joan Burton, the woman who coveted the job handed on a plate to Howlin? It leaves her watching her back, that's where. Fine Gael is out to gut her, not just by tweet, and her Labour 'colleagues' may yet let them at it. She makes them all uneasy, does our Joaney, which is why a lot of people have a sneaking regard for her.
But expect her to be really, really unhappy after the next Budget. Social Welfare will be the target this time, at which point those fracking Labour back-benchers in the Dail and Senate may be heard to squeal -- is it for this we came to office?
James Reilly will rub his hands in glee, even if Terry Prone tells him not to.
But the answer is yes, this is why Labour is in Government; for that, and also this, 10 years hence, the troika not long gone, for Labour ministers, who will not serve again, to strut about at summer schools and the like, maybe in a few corporate boardrooms, and lay claim to the title of Statesman. They saved the country, so they did. Honest. It's true. I read it in a book.