John Downing: ''Do-little Dáil' has plenty to be getting on with as recess looms'
Our TDs returned to a muggy Dáil atmosphere yesterday, after a week's post-local and Euro elections break, knowing there may be as few as 15 sitting days left to their summer recess in mid-July.
As proceedings opened we were reminded that no fewer than four sitting TDs are headed for Strasbourg from July 2, when the new European Parliament formally opens its doors. There were cordial words of congratulation for Clare Daly (Dublin Fingal), Frances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid-West), Billy Kelleher (Cork North-Central), and Mick Wallace (Wexford).
Nobody was vulgar enough to mention the resultant four by-elections, which must by rule be held within six months of their collective departure. That's four by-elections Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael is most unlikely to win - setting a very poor tone indeed for a general election that will follow in a matter of months, in summer 2020 at the latest.
Will we have those by-elections at all? Well, these are matters more likely to be contemplated in the autumn. More immediately, there are questions about what can be done before the summer break.
The summer recess date is rumoured to be Thursday, July 11. They may or may not stick a few days on to that, bringing it into the middle of the following week.
But the point is that time is already short and this "do-little Dáil", afflicted by a kind of sclerosis due to lack of a clear majority, still has some urgent work to do.
The big one really is the effort to act against the nation's compensation culture and spiralling public liability insurance costs.
Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath, who has been very strong on this issue for a number of years, paid a backhanded compliment to the junior finance minister, Michael D'Arcy, yesterday noting that he had been a lone Government voice on the issue.
Mr D'Arcy has lacked support from his senior colleagues on this issue. But the controversy surrounding Maria Bailey's ill-starred compensation claim has now suddenly empowered him.
Yet time is very short for the Government generally, and Fine Gael specifically, on this vexed issue. The long-awaited Judicial Council Bill is expected to be brought back to the Oireachtas in the coming days with a view to getting it passed before the summer break.
This bill allows for the establishment of a committee of judges who will recalibrate the level of payouts for injuries such as whiplash. If it does not make it through by the break, then it is unlikely to be enacted before this year ends. That would leave Mr Varadkar facing elections amid charges of failing to address a core issue.
Fine Gael's embarrassment from Ms Bailey's case continues. People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith began questioning the Taoiseach by saying: "I hope you don't mind if I don't stand up, I have a broken leg. But I didn't fall off a swing and I'm not going to sue anybody." Ouch!