Monday 19 August 2019

Ivan Yates: Voters have just signed up for years of harsh medicine

Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

FOUNDATIONS for a National Government will be laid today. With almost a 30-seat majority, many constituencies will have no opposition TD.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have less than a week before next Sunday's Labour Party conference to procure a five-year Programme for Government.

This tight timetable and the context of a national economic emergency will be used to paper over the cracks of contradictions within their respective party manifestos.

An urgent marriage will involve an initial meeting between both leaders and the immediate appointment of formal negotiating teams.

FG's key players will be Phil Hogan, Michael Noonan, Richard Bruton and Alan Shatter. Labour's heavy hitters will include Pat Rabbitte, Ruairi Quinn and Joan Burton.

Teams of party apparatchiks will merge both policy platforms into a single word document. Intractable issues will be resolved by elevating them upstairs to their leaders.

A committee can be employed as a deferring technique to review the issues and report back in a year.

Coalition formation based on compromise is now a routine aspect of our post-poll politics.

The vital glue will be the personal rapport between Enda and Eamon. The cornerstone has to be mutual trust that they will stick together for five years.

The essential ingredient will be 'burden sharing'. No, not burning the bondholders, but accepting lost popular support for each party as they administer the years of inevitable harsh medicine.

Voters may not have realised what they signed up to on Friday. Regardless of expectations, in reality the electorate signed a patient consent form -- same as the disclaimer before the anaesthetist puts the patient to sleep in the operating theatre.

Both leaders know just how attritional the coming years will be on their present party strengths.

This government will have unprecedented lobby fodder, disappointed backbenchers whose role in life will be to defend the indefensible in their constituencies.

The prospective sales pitch to them must be the opportunity of a decade in office.

The diminished size and fragmentation of the opposition means that FF will be portrayed as toxic for a decade, symbolic of economic failure.

An assortment of maverick Independents and left-wing groups will be depicted as irresponsible, mere protest parties, unfit for government.

If FG and Labour lose 20 seats in the next election, they can still harbour hopes of retaining power. This offers a career path of promotion for younger TDs.

A mid-term review of the Programme for Government in September 2013 will be the 'get out of jail card' for both parties from their electoral promises. This half-term review will offer the promise of a reshuffle.

This week's briefings from the Department of Finance will auger worse economic tidings.

Some €15bn of additional banking recapitalisation and €25bn of extra liquidity means further odium being poured on the departing Brian Cowen.

Expect gloomy assessments about our tarnished international reputation abroad. Bloodletting amongst senior mandarins will reinforce perceptions of a regime change.

One of the first key objectives of the new government will be to devise a communications plan. The new administration desperately needs an Alastair Campbell to get its message across.

FG is committed to reducing current public expenditure by €6.4bn over three years, including axing 18,000 off the public payroll and reducing welfare by €1.96m. FG evaded clarity during the campaign.

There will be no such hiding place in Government Buildings. Health and political reforms will be common causes around which to unite. Third-level education fees, domestic water rates, child benefit, semi-state privatisation and abortion legislation are potential political landmines.

The thorniest issue is jobs. Crises of unemployment and emigration will not abate in the foreseeable future. Public expectations are realistic.

The jobs dilemma I refer to is the one around cabinet posts. The proportionate FG/Labour divide will be either 10/5 or 9/6.

Labour's guarantor against minority status is to insist on obtaining Finance. FG will acquiesce on condition that it gets a separate Minister for Public Service and Super Junior Minister, with responsibilities to include banking.

These two honchos can ride shotgun with the Labour minister. Labour's Brendan Howlin should get the Ceann Comhairle's robes, while Alan Shatter would be Attorney General.

Pat Rabbitte is my banker to be Finance Minister. As the Labour nominee, Gilmore will entrust this pivotal position to his closest, ex-Democratic Left, confidante. Pat and Enda, both Mayo men, enjoy excellent longstanding relations (remember the Mullingar Accord). Rabbitte will be tough at repelling vested interests and smart enough not to be prisoner to formal advice of civil servants.

Other picks? Richard Bruton as Minister for Public Service Reform; Ruairi Quinn in Foreign Affairs, likely to depart the Dail to be next EU Commissioner; Michael Noonan returning to the Department of Justice; Phil Hogan in Environment and James Reilly as Health Minister. Three female cabinet members will be Joan Burton, Roisin Shortall and Frances Fitzgerald.

Cowen's greatest miscalculation was a deluded unshakeable conviction that his government could last until June 2012. An appalling lack of election preparation cost FF an extra dozen seats.

The abiding lesson for the new government party leaders is to ensure the next election is held at the time of their choosing and on their terms.

And the main message from the ballot box on Friday was the hurricane force of voter volatility.

Enda and Eamon, you had better hang together, or else you will most assuredly hang separately.

Irish Independent

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