Friday 21 October 2016

Talking about an election is a dangerous game which could be self-fulfilling

Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30

'Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s outburst on Twitter about his posters being 'ready to be deployed' was perhaps discountable as part of the man’s unpredictable character.' Photo: Caroline Quinn
'Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s outburst on Twitter about his posters being 'ready to be deployed' was perhaps discountable as part of the man’s unpredictable character.' Photo: Caroline Quinn

Two Ministers, even acting ones, talking about another election is not a good sign. Talking up an election could just start us on that slippery slope.

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We keep hearing all sides at Leinster House can agree on one thing: "No election!" But evidence that the key players may not be able to avoid this outcome is beginning to emerge, not least with loose talk.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar's outburst on Twitter about his posters being "ready to be deployed" was perhaps discountable as part of the man's unpredictable character.

But similar statements from Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, usually the sensible and conservative one, added fuel to fire. Asked if he had election posters on standby, Mr Donohoe said he had them safely stashed but hoped he would not need them.

The "other crowd" quickly jumped in and played out their role. Fianna Fáil's Charlie McConalogue argued that Fine Gael were guilty of threats and intimidation. Independent Shane Ross said they were ignoring these comments and continuing their talks.

But this is not a very edifying period in Irish politics. We are in week six of this post-election period. Tomorrow the charade will be played out and it's odds-on there will be few surprises.

Enda Kenny will probably get 51 votes for his Taoiseach candidature. That will be Mr Kenny's own deputies - plus the questionable bargain of Independent Michael Lowry.

Micheál Martin will probably get his own party's 43 votes. We will again ask: we had to wait weeks for that?

The rest will look on: the 23 Sinn Féin TDs, and the six Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) TDs, especially, will happily hug the opposition benches. The Independents who have been busy talking to Fine Gael, and to a lesser extent Fianna Fáil, will hold fire.

The Independents have been tantalised by some promises on policy around rural development, health and disability supports, among other issues. But they know that, unless there is some arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on how a minority government would deal with budgets and key legislation, all policy promises are worthless.

We are led to believe that Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil talks could be kicked off on Thursday. We could expect an exchange of papers to follow soon thereafter. It is not as if this will come as a surprise to either side.

Estimates at Leinster House on how long the process could continue vary between two weeks and a month. But given the ongoing tardiness, it would be very welcome news that the parties were ready to quicken up the pace here.

Both larger parties are right to look askance upon Sinn Féin and AAA-PBP relishing prospective opportunities to get "two for the price of one" in attacking both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil with the same breath. It should offer opportunities for the "new opposition" - but the bigger two can always rightly counter that these are lovers of the comfort zone of opposition, loath to take responsibility.

Reality is that avoiding another election requires nothing short of a culture change. Dáil reform plans are central - but a new culture of collaboration must also be fostered.

Can we make such a leap all at once? Unlikely is the most realistic answer. But we could make a start.

Meanwhile, not talking up an election would help.

Irish Independent

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