Tuesday 22 October 2019

John Downing: 'Forget 'sinning priests' - time to get back to the safety of Brexit'


'Brexit never really went away, and in reality it still overshadows all our politics.' Photo: PA
'Brexit never really went away, and in reality it still overshadows all our politics.' Photo: PA
John Downing

John Downing

The word from Fine Gael HQ and Government Buildings is clear: time to get back to Brexit.

Yes, it is a national calamity waiting to happen. But in a strange way, Leo Varadkar and company have managed to find some silver lining in the Brexit cloud - as voters reckon they have so far managed rather well through a tough situation.

Brexit never really went away, and in reality it still overshadows all our politics. But it has taken a backseat on this island since the EU leaders' agreement on April 10 to extend the deadline until October 31.

Overall, Brexit has pushed back a general election, despite a feeling that this administration is past being of any real use. By contrast, Brexit has sown huge instability in UK politics.

The sense of uncertainty and dread prevails, and a Halloween nightmare still threatens, but while the issue retreated to the shadows, the Government has been fighting various losing battles on other fronts over the past three months.

The new children's hospital cost over-run has been joined by tales of huge increased costs for the roll-out of rural broadband. Questions continue to build around the knock-on effects of these overspends on other headline projects. And there have been persistent doubts about Government's ability to legislate for effective curbs on dubious insurance claims.

Yes, the Judicial Council bill - passed by both the Dáil and Seanad - is a positive development. But Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey's ill-starred case fed into this issue.

News of a global health services spending over-run has made its unsurprising annual appearance. Two years on, the cervical test debacle remains to be dealt with and, generally speaking, health still carries its usual air of political defeatism.

Ten days ago, news of a draft EU-Mercosur trade deal landed with a thud on the Government whose response was hugely defensive, as angry beef farmers were further goaded. The Government has been chasing that issue ever since with at best mixed results.

These other political issues have been played out amid increasingly testy exchanges between the Taoiseach and the Opposition leaders, especially Micheál Martin. They built up to the Taoiseach's ill-judged "sinning priest" comments last week.

With terrible pun intended, we can say these comments proved to be a God-send for Fianna Fáil, which was struggling with how to attack a Government it is de facto keeping in office.

That incident was awkward but not fatal for Leo Varadkar. Yet he was very happy to return to Brexit yesterday, gratefully fastening on to a question about a potential additional extension, and delivering a strong negative reply. Today, the Brexit return continues with announcements about measures if the worst occurs and we face a no-deal end.

Irish Independent

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