Thursday 27 October 2016

Now the 'thinking' is out of the way, is there any chance of action?

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

TD's at the Fine Gael think in at the Keadeen Hotel. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
TD's at the Fine Gael think in at the Keadeen Hotel. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Some version of reality was played out this week as the political party 'think-in' season commenced against a backdrop of grave mood music for the Government. As our capital city ground to a screeching halt courtesy of striking bus drivers, there was a cacophony of claims against Nama's handling of the sale of taxpayers' assets.

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If that were not enough, we learned of an annual 10pc increase in the national average rent at a time when even the Government accepts that homelessness is our greatest social challenge. Apple, Brexit - small words, huge issues.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, unperturbed by the background noise, came back to work fighting fit and ready for action. Thrumming with energy (if not youthful exuberance) he attempted to draw a metaphorical line in the sand for his detractors. His declaration that he had once again found his "mojo" over the summer months (presumably while roaming the majestic fields of Mayo) was a revelation. You could almost hear his handler's buttocks tightening as his words clung like magnets to every story-starved hack's microphone.

Strangely, the utterance instantly reminded me of the now defunct, and possibly least successful election slogan of all time: "Keep the recovery going".

Both statements unwittingly share the misplaced assumption that we believed that there was any evidence of either "his mojo'' or ''the recovery'' in the first instance.

With all of their 'thinking' now safely out of the way, Fine Gael ministers and Deputies must be looking at the return of the 32nd Dáil on Wednesday with a certain degree of trepidation and dread.

Even though they are ensconced in Government, their foothold remains incredibly tentative.

It is worth remembering that when the election to nominate a Taoiseach took place on May 6, Enda Kenny secured 59 votes - just one more than the bare majority, with a Fianna Fáil abstention.

Many in Fine Gael will look back to the class of 2015, when they had things so well, and wonder where it all went wrong.

This time last year, Fine Gael was sitting pretty could pretty much do as it pleased, well placed to deliver a bumper budget to assuage an angry electorate. The party rolled out a spending plan that was short on vision but dished out lots of lovely lolly.

Significant political appointments were made with little regard for consensus, never mind optics. Ministers, senior officials and party apparatchiks were dispatched and dispensed of with gay abandon when they became problem children faster than John Delaney writes €5,000 cheques to League of Ireland clubs.

Throughout their time in office, Fine Gael approached its legislative agenda with a bombast built on a bedrock of numbers. Time and time again, it came in like a wrecking ball that made Miley Cyrus look positively demur.

Occasionally, the party stumbled upon some opposition that slowed progress but quickly picked itself up and carried on regardless.

Further evidence of Fine Gael's hubris was the opening gambit in the general election campaign. A bold promise to eliminate the universal social charge completely. But wait, weren't you the guys who told us to behave responsibly?

Something did not add up - not the numbers, not the narrative - and so commenced the questioning of Michael Noonan's steady hand.

Now the operational political landscape has changed utterly for Fine Gael and is almost comical in contrast. Everything it does now must be crossed, checked and cleared, not just with some very 'independent'' Independents, but also by Fine Gael's political nemesis, Fianna Fáil.

An administration that took 70 days to concoct, a remarkable feat of political panel beating by any standards, eventually carved a collection of support from some Independents and a tacit agreement from Fianna Fáil to play ball on three budgets.

Since then, Fianna Fáil deputies have not only invaded the dressing room, they hover like willowy shadows hanging over every player on the pitch, occasionally togging out just to try the jerseys on for size.

For its part, Fianna Fáil is eager to claim credit for shifts in policy direction. It says that the proposed ratio of two to one spending on services versus the reduction of taxation, as expected in the next Budget, is down to Fianna Fáil . Secured wins on water charges and powers for Central Bank Powers to lower interest rates will be discretely referenced and, more importantly, stored up for reference in the next election campaign.

Fine Gael is acutely interested in keeping Fianna Fáil happy, so that it may rely on that party's support on substantive budgetary measures, but Fine Gael also has one eye on a new leader and staying in power.

Depleted, Fine Gael now has 26 seats less than they had this time last year. Nonetheless, the party has a greater number of cabinet seats than ever. Significantly, it occupies the commanding portfolios of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure.

The Taoiseach had no option but to come back and reassert his authority. He was absolutely right, a leader's departure should always remain in sight but just out of reach.

We can only speculate that 'mojo' is a secret Fine Gael code word for 'frantic background succession planning' and that there are manoeuvres behind closed doors for reinvention before they all run out of road.

This Government needs to bed down properly with the Independents, so that new politics can begin in earnest. More importantly, then we, the electorate, can feel assured that the Government are dealing with serious issues like Nama, Apple, Brexit and homelessness, instead of second guessing their own security.

To see him through all of these challenges, the Taoiseach will certainly need some magical powers to lift him above his peers.

I'm glad to hear the mojo is back, I'm just raging I missed it the first time.

Irish Independent

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