Saturday 24 February 2018

Kevin Doyle: It's been 'keep calm and carry on' till now - but FF leader has raised the stakes

Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Every morning for the past 48 days, the country has woken up and carried on.

There has been no great trauma associated with not having a government, other than having to watch the play acting between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The bond markets haven't crashed, the M50 is still bumper to bumper and the weather hasn't been any more apocalyptic than usual.

On the surface it would appear everything, as Irish people often put it, is 'grand'.

But the stakes were raised in a dangerous move by Micheál Martin last night when he gave 15 Independents an ultimatum - vote for me or your only option is Enda Kenny.

The Fianna Fáil leader has sought to push the Independents off the fence, where they have been perched since February 26, and speed up the entire process.

And he will no doubt have taken some pleasure in the sheer chaos it caused within Fine Gael.

Less than a week after Mr Kenny caused consternation in Fianna Fáil by offering a "partnership government", Mr Martin has more than got his own back.

Fine Gael ministers were left reeling as they tried to assess whether in fact they have been played all along by a type of politics that Fianna Fáil was once famous for.

It was brinkmanship of the highest order after two days of an unprecedented truce that saw both sides not to leak anything worth reporting from their meetings. Last night, Fine Gael were claiming a "total breach of faith" and confusion reigned. If government is supposed to provide law and order, then this was the further thing possible from it.

To the casual observer it might even appear that we are better off letting the country carry on without a government at all.

After all, our ministers who are tasked with looking after health, justice, agriculture and transport are locked in a room.

It would seem there is no need to even reassure the public progress is being made, beyond the "cordial" greetings.

You'd almost forget there's a waiting list crisis in our hospitals, that gardaí are on the verge of an unprecedented strike, that milk prices have collapsed or that Luas workers are on protective notice.

A lot of people have become so cynical that they believe the government would have done very little to solve those problems anyway.

But the reality is that behind the scenes the civil service is running the country with an attitude that says "lead me, follow me, or get out of my way".

The Secretary General of one department privately suggested that his 'acting minister' was operating on a "need to know" basis.

"Nothing new is happening but anything that was in train before the election is still being taken care of," a source said.

But that's the problem - nothing new is happening.

The public are well acquainted with the crises in health and homelessness.

However, if a 'new' crisis comes along it will be a very different story.

The civil service isn't mandated to meet with British authorities and negotiate trade deals or to try quelling the clamour for pay rises in the public and private sectors.

Or, worse still, what if there is a crisis that nobody can predict? A natural disaster, a multi-national company employing thousands pulls out of the country or, God forbid, a terrorist attack.

Then it is the politicians we will look to for answers, not the anonymous backroom workers.

It is with that in mind that Micheál Martin decided to cut to the chase.

He is clearly tired of the back and forth with Fine Gael while simultaneously being held to ransom by Independents.

That is not, and never has been, the Fianna Fáil way.

Today will now tell us a lot about the make-up of the next government - if indeed we get one without another election.

Trust has broken down between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the second time in a week.

All is not lost and depending on the outcome of today's Dáil vote both sides appear willing to go back to the negotiating table.

At the same time it's hard to imagine the mood will be "cordial". And while everything is 'grand' right now, it's not right to assume that this political game can go one for much longer.

Like it or not, we need a government to rule the country.

Irish Independent

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