Tuesday 20 February 2018

Half-threat of election has passed - but are we really any better off?

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)
John Downing

John Downing

Even at its lowest point of name-calling and attempts to rake up skewed family political histories, it was clear that a general election was the least likely outcome of the water charge farce, which dragged on for the past fortnight.

But what if things had degraded to the point where a general election was triggered through the careless actions of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil?

Would it have been any worse than the current state of affairs?

And, in a time when many people are disengaged from our current "paralysis politics," is it wise to assume the current "as-you-were" trend shown in opinion polls, would follow through in any such election?

Today we are three weeks shy of the first anniversary this hybrid minority Coalition taking office on May 6 last.

It has been a hard and grinding time for many of the 158 TDs.

The water charges fiasco - which made comprehensive mugs of the bulk of people who were prepared to pay them - only served the far-left opponents who want to mix street and Dáil politics.

These groups are undoubtedly so lonely after the charges issue, that they try to insist charges can return via the backdoor of some as yet unknown levy for excessive use.

Our water rebels risk being left without a cause. But we have confidence in their ability to find a new pot to stir.

Back with our departure point - a general election might not have been the worst outcome, despite the widely acknowledged dread among the bulk of people of another trip to the polls, barely 14 months after the last one.

It is perfectly true that the slew of opinion polls over the last year indicate that, bar the odd detail, not much would change.

In the main the surveys tell us that Fine Gael are near enough on or about their 25pc general election score.

Fianna Fáil are up a few points, depending on which survey you set your clock by, from the 24pc they scored last time.

That scenario leaves some seasoned party veterans with a certain sense of dread - despite the likelihood that Micheál Martin could become Taoiseach just six years after an epic electoral meltdown amid huge public opprobrium.

"We just might swop the best available option, underpinning a minority Fine Gael-led Coalition, with the reverse situation, which might be the worst possible option," the senior Fianna Fáil person told this writer.

The "Soldiers of Destiny" could face their first ever stint of responsibility without power.

Sinn Féin are often shown by these surveys to be up on their February 2016 election score of 14pc.

Again, it depends which survey you pick, and you have to factor in the reality that the surveys have often over-stated Sinn Féin's actual election performance, in part because some potential supporters are less likely to actually go out and vote.

Across the rest, many parties and groupings are in such small scores that they live within the opinion polls margin of error.

But our main point is that those opinion polls are telling about the lie of the land right here and now. It is a period when we, the voters, penalised many of our politicians giving them a configuration not conducive to government-making. The majority of TDs elected in February 2016 chose opposition over government.

There are limits to criticisms of our TDs and senators right now.

Any such criticism must be tempered by the reality that if we do not vote to pick a government, what may emerge is weak government, or maybe a non-government.

Yes, the people are always right when they go to vote - and our politicians must work with the given results.

But democracy is more usually self-correcting, if not from one specific election to another, then over a series of elections.

There is the real prospect that the need to pick a government may become a real theme next time.

With big challenges beckoning, notably from Brexit and President Trump's policies, we need a strong government capable of making good decisions quickly.

It is legitimate to ask what benefit a delay on another general election brings us. The current system is not working - time to contemplate change.

Irish Independent

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