Thursday 29 September 2016

Fine Gael's forced marriage to Independents will fail

Gerard O'Regan

Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30

John Halligan (left) and Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance spurned the Attorney General's advice on the Wallace bill Photo: Tony Gavin
John Halligan (left) and Shane Ross of the Independent Alliance spurned the Attorney General's advice on the Wallace bill Photo: Tony Gavin

That's the thing about us know-alls who have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. We sound off and pontificate on the ills of the human condition as we see fit - all too ready to cast judgment on what we perceive to be the foibles of our fellow mortals.

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But out there in the wider world, things are a bit different for those who have to try and get by in real time. The theory as spouted by the hurler on the ditch is all very well but it may be of damn all use to somebody battling away at messy and grim reality.

As one time, US president Theodore Roosevelt famously remarked: "It is not the critic who counts... the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

And that's the thing with some of the Independents in the Dáil. We had hoped that those who have thrown in their lot with Fine Gael in government would ditch their knee-jerk inclination to always seek solace in the populist route.

They are now in the citadel of power and at the very centre of the kind of 'arena' referred to by Roosevelt. Adopting the role of naysayer should not be an option.

We may also have even dared to hope for some 'statesmanlike' approach to the business of getting the country through these wayward times.

Meanwhile, Thursday's opinion poll might signal that the public are finally beginning to tire of the collective whinefest from Independent TDs, which has been like a gale force in our public life these last few years.

It's nigh impossible to listen to or watch a current affairs programme without having to endure another all-knowing non-party politician, replete with self-satisfied answers and solutions to almost every political conundrum around.

Usually plonked in the studio to provide 'balance' for some discussion or other, theirs is a world of certitude. While some who do plough a lone furrow have their talents, the repetitive nature of their arguments sure can get tiresome.

And so we have had the debacle involving government minister Shane Ross and his views on the Attorney-General's advice regarding Mick Wallace's abortion bill. The whole sorry mess may just inadvertently signal the end days for this lopsided, propped-up coalition arrangement, which is now devoid of any real authority.

At least Enda Kenny and the Fine Gaelers now know where they stand.

There can be no further delusion that 'we are all in this together' through thick and thin.

It would seem that old habits die hard if you have been operating as a political sole trader, as is the case with Deputy Ross, for practically a lifetime.

The only glue which can hold together a government like the current set-up - which, even in good times, is always going to be on the ropes - is the old reliable of collective cabinet responsibility. It should be the enduring consolation for one and all, especially when tough times must be faced down.

In fairness to Enda Kenny, he did articulate a strategy on the abortion issue. If this approach is to be found wanting at a later stage, that will surely be the time for grandstanding. The motives behind Mick Wallace's bill may indeed be altruistic in their intent. But they also smacked of political opportunism.

In any case, the bottom line is that the Attorney-General ruled that it is unconstitutional. That's her judgment as one of the senior law officers in the land.

However, Deputy Ross's comment that her advice is ''simply an opinion'' is another indication that this forced marriage between FG and the Independent axis is doomed to failure. Such trivialisation regarding a judgment of this stature can only poison relationships all round.

In any case, there is a whiff of ever-increasing instability in the air, as furious activity continues beneath the Fine Gael undergrowth. For the first time since the election, the Taoiseach's countenance in the Dáil has the look of a man suddenly weary of carrying a can marked 'Responsibility without power'.

He may have had no option, but he made a singular error in stating that he would depart in the lifetime of this parliament at a time of his own choosing.

History shows that such a scenario only serves to provoke putative replacements to make a move sooner, rather than later. They have no option if they are to get in ahead of their competitors. Varadkar and Coveney have already left the starting blocks.

For Shane Ross, it may also be a reminder that all of us who chant our comments from the sideline are but bystanders, watching the real action take place on the field of play.

Despite having got the team jersey, it is clear that he also wants the luxury of doing a solo run whenever he likes and playing a part only as he sees fit. But what will happen if a Captain Varadkar or a Captain Coveney starts calling the shots and are determined that the game in future will be played strictly according to their rules?

Irish Independent

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