| 15.8°C Dublin

Jason O'Mahony: 'For all the change they will make, we might as well have knitted TDs voting in the Dáil'


Symbolic guff?: Votegate has highlighted that a lot of Dáil votes mean nothing. Photo: PA

Symbolic guff?: Votegate has highlighted that a lot of Dáil votes mean nothing. Photo: PA

Symbolic guff?: Votegate has highlighted that a lot of Dáil votes mean nothing. Photo: PA

It's easy to be disappointed by Votegate. As political scandals go, it's nowhere near as much fun as it should be. I mean, if Lisa Chambers had gone to the trouble of going full 'Weekend at Bernie's' with it and moved a sunglass-wearing dummy around the chamber as she pressed the offending digit we'd have a bit of sport.

We could have spent a whole day trying to figure out from the tapes if it was indeed Dara Calleary voting as opposed to an inanimate stuffed object. Why's he wearing glasses indoors? Since when did he grow that enormous moustache? Why is he so lively?

There's a bigger question at play too. Votegate has highlighted how much voting in the Dáil is just a load of aul symbolic guff that means nothing most of the time. We'd be just as well off letting TDs pre-load their votes into the system or let the chief whip of each party cast all their party votes on their behalf. Most TDs would be delighted to stay in their constituencies anyway.

We could even take a leaf from that tiny Japanese village that, faced with massive depopulation, starting filling its streets and windows with knitted people. TDs could put dummies in their seats, perhaps with NASCAR-style sponsorship stickers (Go IFA!) or in county colours. The Healy-Rae ones could wear caps. The Shinners wouldn't even need to buy sunglasses or balaclavas for theirs. The Green ones could be made of hemp.

The fact voting means so little in the Dáil raises a bigger question: should we be in such a rush to have a general election? Do we actually need it?

Can the Taoiseach convince the voter he needs a mandate to unveil Leo 2.0, who free from the distractions of the circus next door going all Austro-Hungarian Empire on us can set about solving the nation's problems?

There's a serious risk, which probably grows the longer he delays the decision, that the people will decide they have the measure of him and his Government.

That aside from Brexit it's pretty hard to point to game-changing decisions that are solving the perennial problems that seem to hang around the country like the bang off a rotting rat behind an immersion heater.

It's quite possible they might have more time to look at the Government as it looks at the frustrated housing and health expectations of the country with the pained, sympathetic but ultimately useless face of a fella gawking at a pile-up he's driving past on the M50 and decide we don't want another five years of that.

Having said that, if we have reduced our electoral contests to a five-year act of revenge where we take out last year's hero and give him a good kicking then it's a pretty depressing excuse for a democracy. But what is our alternative?

Picture staring into a crystal You-ball(™), pressing the skip ads button and gazing into the future, four years from now, where a Micheál Martin-led Fianna Fáil/Labour/Social Democrat government sits in office.

The Progressive Programme for a Progressive Partnership for Progress is certainly full of lofty phrases, and the government has all the Trudeauesque touches so beloved of the Irish soft left. With the use of super juniors and the Seanad, 50pc of those sitting around the cabinet are women.

You can't move for Citizens' Assemblies looking at everything from the impact of shrinking ice-caps on transgenderism to the need for artisanal gluten-free bakeries in the fight against racism. Fianna Fáil, as always happens with its coalition partners, becomes coloured by the MiWadi of their ideas, happily signing up for "all that stuff" in return for more GAA grants.

There's been a huge increase in spending on social and public housing, an achievement much ballyhooed by the Taoiseach. A huge increase in spending mind, not on the number of actual housing units. The Government, like every government, is terrified of people who actually are housed and don't want anything built near them.

They pretty much run for election with posters promising "More Housing! But nowhere near this poster!" Instead, the Government spends huge amounts buying vastly over-priced homes from private developers to be able to say it has increased the overall number of social housing units.

A&E and the waiting lists are where they always are, with the cookie monster that is the HSE demanding more money into its maw, Fine Gael (now in Opposition) choking back tears of empathy for people on trolleys, and the minister for health (possibly one of the aforementioned knitted dummies) pleading for patience with the latest "plan" ("A Nation That Cares/Feels/Pats Your Hand" - delete as appropriate). It all feels very familiar.

One minister proposes firing all the Seanad reform reports into space to see if something good might come back from extraterrestrial intelligence.

In short, there's no reason to believe the next Dáil will be any more dynamic than this one.

The Shinners up North have proven themselves to be as economically radical as, well, Fine Gael, and the Alphabet Left would destroy their trousers at the thought of having to make decisions.

Short of inviting retiring UK speaker John Bercow over to do a term as Ceann Comhairle if only for the sport of it, I'm not sure we should be in a rush to go to the polls.

Irish Independent