independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Light relief from Mattie in a largely neutered Dail

THE highlight of the final day of the Dail term was a five- minute polemic from the great orator, Mattie McGrath.

The Independent TD for Tipperary South cut loose on Big Phil and the Blueshirts in an unscripted rant on the government party's approach to ethics in the wake of the Mahon Tribunal.

" Fine Gael has tents, caravans and God knows what else for raising funds. Having promised to get rid of this type of fund raising, it has failed to do so," he said.

"The corruption and big cartels continue and the ministers will not engage or listen. As I stated this morning, the Blueshirts are still in business and they want to make mere mortals lie down. They will not get away with it because it behoves all of us to stand up for ordinary people who have been wronged and treated as blackguards."

The light relief was a symptom of a bunch of TDs who can finally see the finishing line after what even the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore acknowledged has been "a long session".

Aside from the sittings since September, TDs have also crammed in a Presidential election and three referendums, spanning two different and lengthy campaigns.

Nobody at all in the Dail objected to the eight-week break coming up as the political system crawled across the finish line.

At the end of the Coalition's first full school year in office, the dominance of its majority means whatever measures the Government needs to pass can be enacted.

The numbers on the Government side and the disjointed nature of the opposition means the Dail is largely neutered. The real battles take place within Fine Gael and the Labour Party themselves -- at backbench and cabinet level.

Nonetheless, there is still a strong degree of stability to point to and the Government's term rumbles on.

Here are the highlights and lowlights of the Dail's last term, which began at 2:30pm on Wednesday, September 14th:

• Budget: Budget 2012 was passed -- the Government got away lightly enough with minimal grumbling by a public used to the cutbacks and extra taxes being announced at this point.

A couple of U-turns were forced by backbench dissent, such as on payments for teens with disabilities and partially on supports for disadvantaged schools.

The efforts at softening up through scaremongering in the month of November, most notably by Health Minister James Reilly and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, were pathetic where greater maturity could reasonably have been expected.

• Sharing the pain: The handling of the introduction of the household charge and septic tank charge certainly left a lot to be desired -- and Environment Minister Phil Hogan with a battered ego.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has spoken of keeping middle Ireland onside, provided measures are fair. But the implementation and communication of these charges were inadequate and showed the necessity for the public to be coaxed along.

EU: The bondholders still aren't burned, but it's now a possibility. Taoiseach Enda Kenny's finest hour in the past year came at last month's late night summit where a better bank deal was agreed in principle. Notably, it followed on from the passing of the EU fiscal treaty referendum. The connection between the two is far from coincidental as Ireland is again seen as a responsible member of the EU club.

• Coalition: Alarm bells are going off left, right and centre at the moment. Dr Reilly's failure to tell the Tanaiste about the resignation of the boss of the largest State agency in the country (HSE chief executive Cathal Magee) beggars belief.

Incredibly, the future of the HSE was actually discussed at Cabinet this week and yet neither Dr Reilly nor the Taoiseach thought to inform the Labour Party -- a scenario which prompts flashbacks to the Green Party being kept in the dark by Fianna Fail.

Labour are already acutely sensitive about being regarded as the junior coalition partners. Aside from the noses out of joint, there are plenty on rows looming on the horizon, so a tight and trusting relationship does matter.

Distrust breeds dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction breeds dissent. Dissent breeds discord. Discord breeds divorce.

• Ethics: Not exactly a vintage year. Ironically, the failure to cap the wages of spindoctors proved to be a PR disaster for the Government as it smacked of more of the same.

The Mahon Tribunal proved to be a reminder of Fianna Fail's torrid past and the final humiliation of Bertie Ahern as he was drummed out of his party.

The term rolled to an end with double the whammy of the financial affairs of Mick Wallace and Dr Reilly coming to light in an unedifying fashion.

• Legislation: The term was dominated by the economic front, with legislation on the budget and the fiscal treaty being passed. The Credit Guarantee Bill and Industrial Relations laws were also passed. The Criminal Justice Protection of Children Bill was published and the Legal Services Bill is still going through.

Unfortunately, the Personal Insolvency Bill is only half-way there. From yesterday, the law to bring in gender quotas for parties selecting candidates is now in place.

However, of all the legislation, it was the Gaeltacht Bill that prompted the unusual sight of a mass walkout of the entire opposition.

• Accountability: It was the nine months where the minor player suddenly got found out. From the presidential election to the EU fiscal treaty referendum, there was no place to hide for the wafflers and those with no answers.

The exception to the rule was the Taoiseach, who did his best to avoid being pinned down. Mr Kenny developed an annoying habit of just slagging off his opponents, rather than actually dealing with the questions at hand.

He developed an aversion to answering direct media questions and ducked out of any debates, even on a vital issue like the treaty.

It's hard to track the point where he lost his confidence but maybe it was Davos when he blamed Irish people's "mad borrowing" for the economic crash -- just seven weeks after telling them: "You are not responsible for the crisis". He hasn't been the same since.

• Politics: The redrawing of the political map and the reduction in the number of TDs at the next general election means most deputies now know exactly what is in store for them when they go to the polls next time out. The Dail will be back at 2pm on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, so TDs have three more full school terms to prove their worth.

Irish Independent

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