Monday 10 December 2018

As it becomes more obvious 'new politics' is a sham, Fianna Fáil will take opportunity to bring down this Government

'Laughably, Leo Varadkar claimed this week that the Government shouldn't be expected to take responsibility for having a quorum of 20 TDs in the House for Dáil debates, as apparently even that is too onerous a task to manage' Photo: Tony Gavin
'Laughably, Leo Varadkar claimed this week that the Government shouldn't be expected to take responsibility for having a quorum of 20 TDs in the House for Dáil debates, as apparently even that is too onerous a task to manage' Photo: Tony Gavin
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Fianna Fáil is a political scorpion that is eventually going to lash out and put this Government out of its misery.

To date, Fianna Fáil has successfully managed to maintain the illusion that it is not intimately involved in the business of this Government, with responsibility and culpability for decisions that are made and - perhaps more importantly - those that are not.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, PBP-AAA TD Bríd Smith listed all of the controversial issues that have so far been kicked to touch by the Government: water charges, bin charges, education reform, repeal of the Eighth Amendment, a possible investigation into a Nama deal, and zero-hours contracts.

It's a list that will continue to lengthen, as the Government is too weak to make any definitive decision on any matter that is likely to provoke the least amount of protest from its shadow partner. Unless Fianna Fáil gives a green light, the matter is put on the long finger.

While the Government has made lots of lofty promises about its determination to tackle complex societal issues, like the housing and homelessness crisis, in reality it's barely competent to organise its own Dáil business.

Laughably, Leo Varadkar claimed this week that the Government shouldn't be expected to take responsibility for having a quorum of 20 TDs in the House for Dáil debates, as apparently even that is too onerous a task to manage.

The degree to which this impotent Government is hamstrung by its supplicant status is evident in its abysmal legislative record. The last time legislation was passed in the Houses of the Oireachtas was February 11 - when the fourth Act of 2016 was enacted. There has not been a fifth.

In comparison, in the same period last year, nearly 30 pieces of legislation were passed. February's election, and the subsequent 70-day posturing by parties before a government was finally formed, can explain some of this discrepancy.

However, the current administration has been in office since May 6, with little to show for it - not to mention that it is now about to go on a protracted holiday until mid-September.

Publicly, Fianna Fáil TDs have been tut-tutting about this inertia and wistfully speaking of the revolutionary potential of this new politics - which can only be realised if the Government functions.

Speaking on 'Morning Ireland' this week, an irate Thomas Byrne said the Government should immediately "get its act together" so it can get on with the job of "providing stable government".

But how can an inherently unstable Government ever provide the sort of stability that Mr Byrne apparently craves. And if Fianna Fáil is so interested in stability, why didn't it provide it by going into government with Fine Gael when it had the opportunity?

It's a bit rich to act as the officiator in the shotgun marriage of a bedraggled Fine Gael to some befuddled Independents and then have the temerity to complain, after the nuptials, the relationship doesn't seem to be working out.

Despite routinely wailing about the Government's instability, Fianna Fáil has also demonstrated that it will hit out and further erode its shaky foundations when it's in Fianna Fáil's own interest to do so.

Having insisted Senator Joe O'Toole resign as chair of the commission on water charges - after he expressed a personal preference for charges - it was suddenly loathe to make similar demands when one of its own TDs made a similar blunder. Education committee chair Fiona O'Loughlin told RTE on Monday she doesn't support the increase of third-level fees - despite the fact that her committee has just been tasked with examining the findings of the Cassells report into how the third-level sector should be funded. Denying her apparent bias would prevent her from doing her job, Ms O'Loughlin stated it was a mere "personal view" and she was prepared to impartially look at all three options outlined in Mr Cassell's report - even if she's opposed to one of them. However, Fianna Fáil TDs castigated Mr O'Toole for making similar personal views on water charges, with Thomas Byrne stating: "By expressing his views in public subsequent to his appointment, he has seriously undermined the commission and the process."

Why is it that Fianna Fáil felt compelled to demand Mr O'Toole's head on a plate after his ill-judged remarks but can apparently see no impediment to Ms O'Loughlin retaining her position?

If Fine Gael had any backbone, it would now be loudly calling for Ms O'Loughlin's head, or at least publicly querying the wisdom of her comments. Instead, it will keep its mouth shut, fearful that any negative remark could tip the Government over the cliff.

Unable to lambast Fianna Fáil, and with increasing anger at the humiliation heaped on the party by uppity Independent TDs, Fine Gael has turned in on itself, with long-standing private criticism of Enda Kenny now being made public by enraged TDs.

The existential problem that Fine Gael has yet to grapple with is that in some respects, it doesn't matter who is elected as its next leader. That person will still be beholden to two masters - fickle Independents who prop up the Government and a resurgent Fianna Fáil which can pull the plug at any moment.

Changing the leader of the party won't change the Dáil's arithmetic and, although the next leader will at least have the support of his or her own party, that support won't translate into an ability to implement policy.

As part of its rebranding exercise, from a party of self-interest to national-interest, Fianna Fáil has stated it will extend its conditional support to this administration until the end of 2018. However, as it becomes increasingly obvious to everyone the new politics is a sham, unable to achieve anything of substance, the party will find some pretext to collapse the Government, leaving a decimated Fine Gael in its wake wondering why it got into bed with a political animal that would ultimately kill it.

Irish Independent

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