Saturday 1 October 2016

What is really happening here is all part of a cunning strategy to stymie Sinn Féin

Published 05/05/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon
Cartoon

It came to pass after 10 tiresome weeks, Moses (Micheál Martin) came down from the Hill (St Patrick's, Cork city) and decreed to the little people that there shall be 10 new Commandments of Irish politics:

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1. Adversarial politics is dead. No longer shall the Dáil be a place of conflict; all contentious matters will be determined by consensus, through committees; acquiescence shall be provided on budgetary issues.

2. Fianna Fáil will not oppose in opposition. No more frenzy-prompting no-confidence motions, all will be sweetness and light. Fianna Fáil will meekly sit on their hands - irrespective of the extent of the levels of Cabinet idiocy.

3. Fianna Fáil frontbench TDs will no longer aspire to be ministers. They're happy to have responsibility without power; not having to face down unpopular measures or impose harsh decisions.

4. Enda Kenny shall have universal Fine Gael parliamentary support as Taoiseach until the summer of 2017; his successor will receive an uncontested coronation thereafter.

5. Sinn Féin and Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit TDs shall be constructive in all matters pertaining to supporting our government.

6. Independent TDs will exclusively focus on national issues of policy, disregarding petty parochial constituency needs.

7. The establishment of Oireachtas committees, preceded by commissions, followed by debates, will be the key to the decision-making processes.

Potentially contentious divisions over matters such as Irish Water or public sector pay will be contained through endless analysis by expert groups.

8. Fifty-eight seats in the Dáil chamber will now constitute a majority of 158 members. If this means that the laws of maths, or even gravity, need to be suspended, so be it. In the event of 100 TDs disagreeing on motions, the authority of the government will in no way be undermined. More consultation will be triggered.

9. The authority of the government will continue as normal in dealing with the EU, pressure groups and vested interests. Public sector unions won't even dream of lobbying non-government parties for members' gain and to reverse cutbacks; Cabinet decisions will be final on all things; especially when rejecting demands for extra spending across departments.

10. This can all happen because voters on February 26 clearly opted to give Enda Kenny's Fine Gael more ministers, and near domination of government offices.

You see, the people were so grateful to have any government at all that they've suspended all their critical faculties, nodding assent to this wonderful new parallel universe unfolding before them. All of the above runs counter to every sinew of human nature inside Leinster House.

The desire for power, inter-party competition for votes/seats, personal career advancement have all been neutralised in the paradigms of 'new politics'.

Should you pop along some pleasant evening to the Abbey or Gate Theatres, you'll see the same thing at work. You will be asked to suspend your credulity.

It is all about play-acting or role-playing; some members of the cast will even play multiple roles.

The same might apply in the cosy confines of the darkened cinema, as you're invited to lose yourself in worlds of animation and science-fiction, time travel, supernatural powers, epic fantasy.

Today, our national politics is being reduced to something akin to a sequel of 'Lord of the Rings' or the new series of 'Game of Thrones'.

Governance is too important to be treated as populist escapism in a world of goblins, dragons and elves created exclusively for entertainment.

There's nothing wrong with re-imagining historic tribal divisions or inventing new ways of using parliamentary processes.

Achieving consensus and greater consultation are positive developments. What's simply not plausible is the notion that Fianna Fáil can be both in opposition and guiding the Government simultaneously. What is really happening here is all part of a cunning strategy to stymie Sinn Féin. This could backfire spectacularly. Sinn Féin's visceral attacks on Fianna Fáil will be far more vicious than those on Fine Gael; they'll shriek that they're the real opposition - not hypocrites saying one thing, but voting differently.

Meanwhile, pity poor backbench Fianna Fáil TDs having to return to their grassroots each weekend. There will be hostility from members, upset at how Fine Gael ministers and Independent TDs take credit and announce constituency projects.

Opportunities to look out for pals, donors and supporters of Fianna Fáil won't be in the mix. There are no prospects for appointments to the judiciary, directors of State boards, even humble peace commissioner posts. They will also struggle to gain access to ministers as representations on behalf of constituents will remain unfriendly: instead of Dear John, it'll still be Dear Deputy. Big shots with an aura of authority, driven in swanky State cars, won't be Fianna Fáilers. Political purgatory feels like this.

If the final outcome on Irish Water, as per the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael deal, becomes the template for resolving the most contentious disputes, we can only anticipate a protracted era of indecision. Government through suspended animation.

This 'Sellotape solution' requires two years of waffle to conclude with an effective free vote in the Dáil to drop domestic household water bills. Nothing from a commission will change voting intentions.

Leo Varadkar's judgment on it all being "ridiculous" is the truth.

The General Election saw Mr Kenny survive the loss of 30 Labour TDs and a further 25 Fine Gael TDs from his coalition - but ultimately it will be his own job on the line.

A key question for Fianna Fáil is what does the party gain from propping up Fine Gael as a minority, makeshift government? Why allow your main competitor to fill all the roles for which you sought a mandate? The longevity of the 32nd Dáil will be determined by Fianna Fáil's ultimate awakening. Labour got zero recognition for providing stable government for five years.

Mark my words, the natural Darwinian order of politics will reassert itself before too long. Cosy co-habitation, as prescribed by the 'new politics', will not take root.

Irish Independent

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