Wednesday 28 September 2016

Leadership may surprise us all yet

Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30

'Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were both losers in the General Election. Now they have a chance to redeem themselves.' Photo: Barbara Lindberg.
'Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were both losers in the General Election. Now they have a chance to redeem themselves.' Photo: Barbara Lindberg.

It wasn't the most promising start. The General Election gave us Independents who couldn't do anything, Fianna Fail who wouldn't do anything and Fine Gael who did not appear to want to do anything. But the weeks since then have worn them all down to the point where we now have a Government. And if all goes according to plan, we may also achieve something which has been long promised without any real attempt at delivery - Dail reform.

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What we were promised was a new way of doing business, and at first glance, it looked like it might even happen. Micheal Martin began impressively in his new and unprecedented role of Opposition leader and semi-detached member of the Government. Enda Kenny not only depends on Fianna Fail and some Independents for backing, but could at different times need support from all ends of the Chamber, depending on the issue.

The bigger parties still retain the whip system, but without a comfortable majority, the arrogance of the past is less likely to prevail. This Government is not without talent, and if Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney can get over their perceived demotions, we could see some solid achievements. Varadkar was foolish to task Fianna Fail with not demanding a better health service, raising the question - why did he not make it a priority himself? But that should now be in the past.

Enda Kenny will not be Taoiseach at the next election, but if that thought continues to consume his party colleagues, they will waste the kind of opportunity given to Coveney, for example, to solve the housing crisis. Simon Harris is young, but maybe some fresh young thinking is just what the Department of Health needs. Shane Ross has been waiting for years to get into government. He is unlikely to squander this chance to make his mark. Denis Naughton made a good start trying to align data from Social Protection and Education on child benefit payments - the universal grant that should never have been universal - whether to combat fraud or improve school attendance. But in the case of Fine Gael, arrogance seems to have been replaced with cowardice, backing away from this good idea at the first sign of trouble.

Micheal Martin for his part looked over his shoulder and tried to second guess Sinn Fein. Fianna Fail is operating with an inferiority complex that says it will perform badly in this Dail and be punished at the next election, and Sinn Fein will be rewarded.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were both losers in the General Election. Now they have a chance to redeem themselves. The Independent members of the Government have been given a chance to prove that a vote for an Independent candidate needs no longer be merely a vote of protest and that this new Dail configuration could bring us something that has been missing from Leinster House for a long time - proper functioning parliamentary democracy.

Sunday Independent

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