Monday 20 November 2017

The snakes and ladders of the slippery 32nd Dáil as they press pause for the summer

Enda Kenny plays air guitar at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park.
Enda Kenny plays air guitar at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park.
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

High point on the grounds of being comedic gold and making practical sense or a low ebb in terms of good governance and plain responsibility?

There was only one way to settle it - by tossing a coin.

Kevin ' boxer' Moran. Pic Tom Burke
Kevin ' boxer' Moran. Pic Tom Burke

The first day of the 32rd Dáil was full of anticipation, drama, intrigue, culminating in a sense of relief that, against all the odds, a government had finally been formed. That feeling didn't last for very long and Jan O'Sullivan has witheringly dubbed it the 'do-nothing Dáil'. But you're on a hiding to nothing assessing progress so early in the day.

It's probably more helpful to pluck out a few memorable 'moments' as a fond tribute to our elected representatives as they kick off their 10-week hiatus, leaving chaos in their wake.

And the nugget buried amongst all the skulduggery that first day was Kevin 'Boxer' Moran's candid admission that he and Sean Canney had tossed a coin to decide which of them should take up the Junior Ministry at the Office of Public Works.

"We did something you'd never see in Leinster House," said Boxer, revealing that they went into a room, "man-to-man", and tossed a coin.

Senator Joe O'Toole. Pic Tom Burke
Senator Joe O'Toole. Pic Tom Burke

"We flipped and Seán came up and I said, 'Seán, you take it for the first year and I'll take it for the second'."

Micheál Martin was in no doubt that this constituted a low point. (Our own in-house coin toss decreed otherwise).

"There was a coin toss between Kevin 'Boxer' Moran and Sean Canny. I never heard of it in my life. I think it's unprecedented," he said on radio two days later.

"It was demeaning of the office and it was beholden on Fine Gael to sort it out in advance."

John Halligan. Pic Tom Burke
John Halligan. Pic Tom Burke

Nevertheless, the political coin toss is not unheard of internationally, despite Martin's protests.

In the US in February 2016 in the first vote to decide the Democrat Party presidential candidates, several results were decided on the toss of a coin, with Hillary Clinton clinching victory in all six coin flips over rival Bernie Sanders in Iowa's Democratic caucuses contest.

But here, it was the era of New Politics.

That didn't last very long.

Read more: Bring out your political dead - and send them off for their summer holidays

Outrage flared over the Taoiseach's appointment of his economic advisor Andrew McDowell to a €275,000 job as vice president of the European Investment Bank, with Labour's Alan Kelly describing it as "ironic" that Mr McDowell was "appointed without public procurement or public analysis".

The timing was particularly awkward since it caused a vacancy in the critical fallout of the Brexit vote, with no chief economic advisor in place for the autumn.

But Mr Kenny defended the appointment, saying Mr McDowell was as "a truly outstanding person and more than capable".

We had to wait for the out-of-hours service to get a conclusively genuine 'high' point of the 32rd Dáil.

Enda Kenny rocking out at the Bruce Springsteen gig, complete with an exuberant air guitar display worth of Steven Van Zandt has to be it.

He had the nation under a spell as he blew off steam with his dad-rock accompaniment to 'Dancing In the Dark'. But, as he pointed out himself, it would've been far worse if he'd just sat there with a face on him.

"When I see some of the stuff that has been written, I wonder whether I am supposed to sit there with my arms folded in a kind of a, just a look on the face," the Taoiseach scoffed afterwards.

'And so what if I enjoy myself one night of the year? Why not?"

There was a promise again of the benefits of New Politics with the appointment of Joe O'Toole to chair the Government commission on Irish Water - a neutral, tempered presence to soothe the rough waves of the debacle.

Instead, O'Toole became a first victim of New Politics, when Fianna Fáil called for his resignation after a mere seven days, following some intemperate, distinctly un-neutral remarks in which he expressed his support for water charges and the polluter-pays principle.

The same frustrations dogged Mick Wallace and his attempt to resolve the Eighth Amendment debate with his bill to allow abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

It was the first real test for this fragile minority Government and it came precariously soon.

Transport Minister Shane Ross and junior ministers Finian McGrath and John Halligan, all from the Independent Alliance, supported the bill, voting against the Government.

However it was comfortably defeated by 95 votes to 45, with Fine Gael and most of Fianna Fáil voting against it. Fianna Fáil had been granted a free vote, but only five of its 43 TDs supported the bill.

On the face of it, a 26.3pc growth in GDP should count as an astounding 'high' for any government.

But when the little folk are tinkering mischievously with the figures, things are inclined to go wrong.

Instead of a spectacular economic windfall, we got a changeling - a €280m bill from the EU.

Experts dismissed the massive CSO revision as "Leprechaun economics" since it relates to the activities of Ireland's multinationals.

"We're not getting the benefits in terms of employment. It's a false economy," insisted Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath.

With Brexit as the true, very sobering landmark of the first 12 weeks of this Dáil and the housing plan as the only real concrete progress, we seem to be dancing in the dark right enough.

Irish Independent

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