Thursday 27 October 2016

Losing is 'new normal' for politicians

Published 03/06/2016 | 02:30

'Up at Leinster House, politicians have to get used to losing'. Photo: Tony Gavin
'Up at Leinster House, politicians have to get used to losing'. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sports fans will agree that winning is a great habit to get into. But up at Leinster House, politicians have to get used to losing.

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Yesterday, four TDs sought the €35,000-a-year post of Dáil deputy chairman - and all four lost in a vote by colleagues. The previous evening, the Government lost a vote in a situation that last occurred in May 1989 - and that was partly responsible for a snap general election.

There are two points to be made about Labour's 'victory' in inflicting defeat on the Government with a motion championing workers' rights. The first is that - in the words of Fine Gael maverick TD John Deasy - as a private members' motion it is not worth the paper it is written on. The second is that Labour's new image of being the 'workers' friend' contrasts with its role in government up to a month ago.

But back in our new and strange political world, vote losses, we are told, are "the new normal" and nobody should be too bothered.

That is true for the moment . . . until it comes down to talk about money. And national politics is all about money - who is getting some, and who is not.

The budgetary process, which will culminate in Budget Day in mid-October, has fallen way behind. There should have been a so-called Spring Statement in April, laying out the Budget's key elements. That will now be styled a Summer Statement, and will materialise in the coming weeks.

But under the so-called 'confidence and supply framework' agreed between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the main Opposition party must agree the key taxation and welfare measures, or else it will not abstain in key votes to allow the Budget to pass.

Budgetary discussions involving all TDs will be facilitated by a special budgetary committee. A temporary version of this is headed by Kilkenny Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan. No reflection on Mr Phelan, but this is likely to be a long and fractious process.

In fact, there is already a row about who should head the permanent committee. Fianna Fáil wants the job to go to an Opposition TD, while Sinn Féin says that it should be a non-Fianna Fáil Opposition TD. Deputy Phelan's committee is supposed to report by the end of this month.

Seán Barrett, the former ceann comhairle who was first elected back in 1981, has sounded a reasonable warning. He said "there isn't a chance in hell" of getting through all the Budget hoops in time to frame things for next year.

Then there is the additional need for EU clearance. That one is complicated, but the central factor is how the economy performs this year and in the coming years. EU rules link government spending to long-term potential GDP growth, capping the amounts available to fund budget giveaways. The pulling and dragging has already started here.

But what odds on some of our EU-hating TDs accepting the EU rules? The nightmare would be a collision between Dáil deliberations and EU supervision.

Irish Independent

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