Saturday 16 December 2017

It's Dáil over for nine weeks: let's hope return brings 'better politics'

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell at Leinster House yesterday, where the Dáil held its final session before the summer recess Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell at Leinster House yesterday, where the Dáil held its final session before the summer recess Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

New politics, old holidays and few new laws. That is a not very encouraging thumbnail sketch of the first term of Ireland's strangest Dáil as TDs clocked out last night until September 27, nine-and-half weeks from now.

Elected on February 26 last, it struggled from its first sitting day, on March 10, to make sense of the crazy political mosaic that makes up this 32nd Dáil. After 70 tortuous days, the hybrid minority Coalition, led by Fine Gael and including diverse Independent ministers, but orchestrated in the background by Fianna Fáil, literally stumbled into office on Friday, May 6 last.

What we have had since is termed "new politics". We are to have a score of committees, there will be pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny.

The elected parliament will no longer be a rubberstamp for matters driven by senior officials and decided by government ministers. But many veterans of Leinster House believe we have gone from one extreme to the other.

Tough decisions on third-level education funding, on health funding and organisation and local taxation are unlikely to be faced. We have the spectacle of three Independent ministers rejecting the Attorney General's advice and voting against their Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues.

We have had Fianna Fáil flexing its muscles and issuing veiled warnings. We have seen Fine Gael members being decidedly unhappy, with doubts about the timing of the Taoiseach's departure and the timing of the next election. In sum, this Government often seems to have far too many things working against it.

Meanwhile, the Dáil completed just eight pieces of legislation. Most of them were hangovers from the previous Dáil. One of them was a decision to formalise the fudge by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to postpone water charges for nine months. In essence it is a decision to put a decision on hold.

Three pieces of legislation were cleared yesterday, two of which are important to citizens' everyday lives. One aims to curb the abuse of drugs mainly available on prescription, and another aims to scrutinise lower-level criminals' ill-gotten assets.

There has also been a quiet reversion to "old holidays". The return date is over nine weeks hence. There is some political cover as the builders move in next week to do works on a very venerable building.

Nor will the TDs and senators take nine weeks off. If they did, they would be political toast before long.

In fact, after a very grinding year, our politicians need a break, and the nation could do with a scaling back of full-on politics. Let's hope the time off is used to reflect on "better politics" in place of "new politics".

Irish Independent

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