Friday 30 September 2016

Alliance goes to top of the hill and down again

Published 02/09/2016 | 02:30

'Michael Noonan told various international media outlets on Tuesday that Ireland 'profoundly' rejected the ruling of the European Commission and would be appealing it' Photo: Fennell Photography
'Michael Noonan told various international media outlets on Tuesday that Ireland 'profoundly' rejected the ruling of the European Commission and would be appealing it' Photo: Fennell Photography

Unlike the grand old Duke of York, the Independent Alliance doesn't have 10,000 men but by God they like to march them up to the top of the hill and march them down again.

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Governments are put in office to make decisions and at the following election the voters get to judge whether they were the correct ones.

But right now we are faced with a situation where the big choices are made depending on the direction of the wind.

And Fine Gael is complicit in creating a scenario whereby their 'partners' in Government are all but encouraged to play a game of brinkmanship.

During the talks that led to the inconvenient marriage, it was noted that for the relationship to work the Independents would need to be kept informed about goings-on in Government Buildings. "No surprises" was the promise.

Essentially, the plan was to open 'back channels' that would head off conflict before it worked its way into the public domain - never mind to the Cabinet table.

Almost four months on, there is still a major dysfunction at the heart of Government, so much so that the Independents joined the rest of the country in a state of "shock" when the €13bn Apple judgement landed.

Independents, by nature, are swayed more by public opinion than ministers who have the back-up of party members.

So it is predictable that the Alliance is consistently trying to differentiate themselves from the main party of Government.

Before the Dáil recess, they cried foul over abortion, forcing an unprecedented scenario whereby the Taoiseach abandoned the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility to allow a free vote on a Mick Wallace bill.

That created a lot of bad blood but it seems lessons were not learned and little was done over the summer months to improve communications.

As a result, Fine Gael once again finds itself living life on the edge - expect this time it's more serious.

The world is watching and nobody is quite sure how it got to this point.

Michael Noonan told various international media outlets on Tuesday that Ireland "profoundly" rejected the ruling of the European Commission and would be appealing it.

A day later, the Cabinet failed to give him its universal backing - sending out the signal that the Irish Government is not in fact sure that the Commission is wrong.

That, in simple terms, is a PR disaster.

The Government is the country's executive. A democratically elected body of people put them in place to make the hard calls even if it damages the individual popularity of various ministers.

That's the oath they take when promising to serve the country.

Of course, things of such magnitude as the Apple decision need to be carefully considered but time is of the essence.

But remember how in the wake of Brexit the Government warned that "uncertainty" would damage Ireland.

The current prevarication is creating lots of uncertainty.

People feared that Fianna Fáil could pull the rug from under this Government at any stage and spark an election.

However, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are actually able to work reasonably well together.

Yet, the longevity of the Government remains in question.

Some members of the Independent Alliance appear to be only half-way up for the challenge of being in power.

And when they are half-way up they are neither up nor down.

If the Cabinet can't reach a consensus on a co-ordinated reply to the Apple tax allegations then an election must be called.

Voters would be told: 'We can't decide whether to take the €13bn so you do it for us.'

Irish Independent

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