Tuesday 25 October 2016

New politics must function

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke

Dail Eireann has closed for summer to return at the end of September, by which time more than seven months will have passed since the General Election. When the Dail resumes in two months, the sum total of four pieces of legislation will have been passed and signed into law by the President. All four were enacted prior to the election in February. If evidence were needed that the political system as we know it has been in a state of high dysfunction virtually throughout the year then surely this is it.

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A strong case could be made that the lengthy summer break should be curtailed this year, particularly as it took so long to form a government in the first place, and especially as so much needs to be done to make good on promises made and lessons learned in the election. That case is likely to be ignored. However, when politicians do return they would be well advised to get on with the business for which they were elected; that is, the passage of measures designed to meet the needs and improve the lives of the people. In that regard, all 158 members of the Dail have a role to play, not just the minority administration which was eventually put in place with the tacit support of Fianna Fail. The time for obfuscation is at an end.

In a grim year so far for the political system in general, there was perhaps one bright moment, which was the launch last week of Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. There is no more critical issue facing the country at the moment, as was evident well before and since the election. It is to the credit of those politicians who contributed to the process which led to the publication of the report by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney. Mr Coveney is also deserving of credit for bringing this initiative to relative fruition, but he now faces the task of implementing its key findings in a timely manner which will require all of the political and administrative skills available to a government minister widely reported to be in line to be the next Taoiseach.

This newspaper has taken a keen interest in the housing issue and welcomes many of the initiatives announced, specifically the "supply-side" issues addressed instead of previous "demand-side" approaches which often favoured incentives to buyers. In that regard, misgivings remain in relation to a proposed reintroduction of a local authority tenant purchase scheme, and also a proposal to offer a €10,000 grant to first-time buyers. However, in the round, the plan is to be welcomed insofar as it offers a first, real opportunity to deal with the multiple and complex issues facing the housing sector.

But the housing and homeless issue is just one of many facing the Government when it returns to business a month after next, not least the budgetary process which is under way. For the first time, the Department of Finance last week published its annual study of budget tax options before the Budget was delivered. In previous years it was published only afterwards. This effort at transparency is also to be welcomed, but the eventual outcome will only be deemed a success if it delivers on the fairer society which the people voted for in the election. That was one of the lessons learned by the previous government and a harsh but valuable lesson it was. The time for action over words has long since passed. When the body politic returns in September it must hit the ground running.

Sunday Independent

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