Tuesday 25 October 2016

The games of 'old politics' still playing in corridors of power

Despite all the talk of a new way of doing things and political accountability, some people carry on as before

Willie O'Dea

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Damien Eagers
Minister Leo Varadkar Photo: Damien Eagers

Much of the political discussion over the past week was focused on the horror of the ongoing gangland killings that are terrorising the lives of so many in Dublin.

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The issue is far too important for political point-scoring. It is important that all TDs work together to make sure that those on the frontline - the gardai - have the resources, the powers and the support necessary to tackle this evil in our midst.

I know well from our own experience in Limerick how it can destroy local communities, but I also know how this evil can be taken on and faced down when the Government and forces of the State act strongly and cohesively.

Last week was effectively the first full week of normal politics after almost three months of focusing on election campaigns, government formation and ministerial appointments. The other political discussions and debates that took place during the week demonstrated just how faltering and staggered our progress to a new form of politics will be.

What we saw is how much, despite their protestations of disgust at 'old politics', some parties and individuals are wedded to that same old politics of empty gestures, sloganeering and pulling strokes.

Take last week's private members business: a motion from Sinn Fein, supported by members from the various left-wing parties and groupings, called for the abolition of Irish Water and water charges.

It was the worst type of empty gesture politics - a motion that was full of rhetoric but which would change nothing, even if it was passed.

It would require detailed legislation to achieve what they say they want - not a simple motion - but what does that matter when Gerry and his lieutenants have political points to score?

When it comes to the aim of the motion, we had already secured that in the arrangement to facilitate a minority government. We have ensured that if a majority of the Dail want the effective end of water charges, then that is what will happen.

To achieve this goal an expert commission will be set up to report speedily on the best method to fund water services. A Dail committee will make recommendations on foot of that report and the Dail - the entire Dail - will decide what happens.

All this has been accomplished through negotiation and compromise. A few weeks ago, Sinn Fein was telling us all that this independent commission was its policy - so why waste the Dail's time with a pointless motion that ignores the progress already agreed?

They know that all 157 TDs will ultimately decide this issue, yet such is Sinn Fein's contempt for their own voters that they believe they will fall for this gimmick. They know the change will happen. They know the charges are about to be suspended and that the water network will be retained in State ownership.

But none of that matters, as they also know that they sat on their hands when it was being negotiated and that they had no hand, act nor part in any of this. Their aim is not to stop the water charges or change anything - it is to sow confusion so that, when water charges stop, they will claim the credit.

This was evidenced in the ferocity with which their press office and online warriors were attacking anyone and everyone who dared challenge their guff.

The new politics that this Dail could be about to make the norm must be about results and making actual changes - not simplistic slogans that can fit on yet another SF placard.

While Sinn Fein's empty motion represented a major example of old politics, there were a couple of other small examples of old politics surviving - including one from the Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar.

In the past, ministers made a virtue of making important announcements outside the Dail. The Dail was the last place they picked to say anything significant. That was old politics. New politics recognises the importance of the Dail and its members and treats it with respect.

Last weekend, Minister Varadkar announced to this paper that he was planning to end the much-criticised and much abused JobBridge programme. The timing of his announcement was curious, especially as he was due to debate the scheme with me and other TDs at parliamentary questions in the Dail on Wednesday.

The new politics that Minister Varadkar tells us all that he is so deeply committed to is about government and ministerial accountability to the Dail. The minister knew he was due to make an announcement to the Dail in response to criticisms from me and many others.

He was happy to abandon his veneer of new politics to gazump his own Dail reply in pursuance of positive publicity after his recent political disappointments. While this transgression was on the lower end of a scale of 1-10, his card has still been marked.

Sunday Independent

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