Friday 28 October 2016

Brexit on back burner as musical chairs in the Dáil takes priority

Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30

The first sitting day of the 32nd Dáil in Leinster House Photo: Maxwell's
The first sitting day of the 32nd Dáil in Leinster House Photo: Maxwell's

Some of you ingrates doubted the ability of new politics to deliver, but our born-again politicians have tirelessly laboured to secure its first major victory. After months of tense negotiations, the seating arrangement in the Dáil has finally been confirmed.

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Unbeknownst to most of us, a bitter war has been raging, between Independent TDs and Fianna Fáil, since the new Government was formed over a hugely important issue - their seats in the Dáil chamber.

Fianna Fáil, having doubled its number of TDs in February's election, foolishly thought that mere fact would automatically entitle them to sit together in chamber. The arrogant dolts even thought it was a reasonable request.

However, several Independent TDs, including Michael Healy-Rae, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, wouldn't stand for this kind of entitled grandstanding and refused to budge from their well-worn positions.

Those TDs argued that they had sat to the right of the Ceann Comhairle in the last Dáil and were adamant that they weren't going to be pushed out by an enlarged Fianna Fáil.

"If Fianna Fáil say they want me out, they'll have to do it electorally before they do it physically," said Mr Healy-Rae to one newspaper, conjuring up images of the Kerry TD being unceremoniously dragged by the cap out of his seat by some burly Fianna Fáiler.

Now, some may point out that kindergarten children would be able to settle a dispute about their seating arrangements quite easily, but this was a question of honour - it wasn't about the seats, it was about the principle. If Fianna Fáil succeeded in ejecting Independent TDs from their familiar Dáil perches, who knows what they'd be kicking them out of next.

TDs felt so strongly about the issue that they were willing to disrupt and delay Dáil business in order to prove a point. Instead of TDs being able to vote electronically from their seats for the past few months, they have had to get up and troop through the division lobbies in the Dáil chamber - a laborious process that took considerably longer.

Now, after months of delicate negotiations, a truce has been agreed. In short, an exasperated Fianna Fáil has thrown in the towel and ceded a stunning victory to the Independents, with Mr Healy-Rae et al being given permission to remain in situ.

Meanwhile, newly-elected Fianna Fáil TD Pat Casey will have to sit apart from his party colleagues, because it's clearly much more important for a disparate group of Independent TDs to stubbornly remain in the seats they have grown accustomed to.

If a Martian were to land in Ireland and request a brief summation of Irish politics, the great 2016 Musical Chairs War would surely provide all the information any inquisitive alien needs to know.

Our preening and pretentious TDs enjoy engaging in lofty discussions about weighty topics, insistent they spend their days selflessly toiling to resolve the many difficult issues facing the country, but stories like this reveal where their true priorities lie - petty battles with political rivals, with no quarter given no matter how frivolous the issue.

Before some Independent TDs have their names engraved on their Dáil seats, perhaps someone should remind them that those seats don't belong to them. They are the people's and the people don't take too kindly to juvenile histrionics about trivial matters.

Fianna Fáil, as the second-largest party in the country, is surely entitled to have its TDs sit together in the parliament. The inability of Independent TDs to graciously accommodate this simple request is contemptible.

This idiotic turf war also raises further serious questions about the new politics we were all told politicians had eagerly embraced. If TDs can't even come to an easy agreement over their seating arrangements, what hope do they have of dealing with the many difficult issues that face the country?

While TDs bicker over their Dáil seats, there are more than 6,000 homeless people, including 2,000 children, in the country. Maybe if they spent as much energy on the homeless crisis as they do on childish squabbling, that number would be going down instead of up.

What exactly has our political class achieved so far this year? Two months after the election, a Government was cobbled together and, latterly, Independent TDs have won a battle to keep sitting in their preferred Dáil seats.

The only minister who seems to have actually accomplished anything is Simon Coveney - who has come up with a plan to tackle homelessness, although it remains to be seen if this plan will actually have any impact.

Now that everyone is on holidays until the middle of September, with a budget supposed to be passed within weeks of their return, who in Government is currently devising a strategy for the biggest economic challenge to face the country since the banking collapse, Brexit?

Or did politicians simply dumped all of that work onto the desks of their civil servants as they scurried out the door?

In the UK, a department for Brexit has been formed to plan the country's exit strategy. Here, in the country most exposed to collateral damage from the British vote, the Taoiseach has vowed to set up a new Cabinet committee to deal with the fallout - but will it be meeting over the holidays?

Additionally, is a Cabinet committee, comprised of members of a Cabinet that can't even agree on the issue of collective Cabinet responsibility, really the best means of preparing for the hugely complex issue of Brexit? Surely a cross-party Dáil committee or advisory council of external experts would be better placed to prepare for what will be an enormous economic shock.

Politicians often complain that jaundiced articles criticising TDs undermine faith in the political system, but ultimately it is their own false promises and self-serving showboating that is to blame.

Posturing in the Dáil over seating arrangements and an underwhelming response to Brexit won't do much to restore people's confidence.

Irish Independent

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