Saturday 24 September 2016

The new politics is about to be put to the test

The Fianna Fail think-in won't involve party members plotting the demise of the Government, writes Willie O'Dea

Willie O'Dea

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke

Over the next two days, members of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party will gather together in Carlow for their post-summer 'think-in'.

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For most Dail parties, the think-in has become an opportunity for TDs and senators to meet in an informal and semi-remote setting and prepare for the upcoming Dail term.

When they started, these think-ins were useful exercises, especially for parties in government. They provided an opportunity for ministers to prepare for the September-December Dail session, with a focus on the Budget, and a venue to hear views and opinions from outside experts. For backbenchers, the absence of advisers and civil servants allowed unfiltered access to ministers.

While think-ins have become less important in recent years, I suspect we are about to see them return to their past significance with the new political environment.

Most of the talk about 'new politics' in the months since the election has been just that: talk. The wobbles and outbursts by Shane Ross, John Halligan and Katherine Zappone may be described as 'new politics' by some, but they are little more than the worst of the old 'how can I play to the camera?' politics.

Over the coming months, we will hopefully see 'new politics' move from an abstract concept to a reality. This will happen when the new Dail committees start to do their work collectively, with the Government listening to what they say, not just ramming through its own agenda.

The same is true for the budgetary process. When the Dail comes back in a week or so, we will see if ministers are actually open to real input from TDs across the Dail.

The next few months will be a big test for this new way of doing politics. But you would have to fear for the prospects of this new way of doing things if you were to listen to what came out of last week's Fine Gael think-in. The discussions in the margins appear to have been dominated by talk of how quickly they can get Enda Kenny to go and who should succeed him.

Some Fine Gaelers were just as worried about when, over the coming months, Fianna Fail would pull the house down and cost them their seats. Though they may find it hard to believe, the Fianna Fail TDs and senators meeting tomorrow and Tuesday will not be bringing maps, slide rules and compasses along so they can plot their demise. Instead, Fianna Fail will be discussing how to get key elements of its manifesto implemented over the coming three budgets, bearing the Dail arithmetic in mind. The Fianna Fail think-in will not just be policy-driven, it will be guided by how Ireland can achieve the political and economic stability it needs over the coming years.

The uncertainty over the Fine Gael leadership is not helping deliver that stability. Fine Gael missed a chance last week to address the issue. Let's hope we won't have to wait for the 2017 think-in for it to be resolved.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City

Sunday Independent

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