Tuesday 11 December 2018

Kevin Doyle: 'TDs have one eye on Brexit and the other on Christmas'

  

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Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Leinster House is in total wind down ahead of the Christmas break, which is still more than a fortnight away.

The Dáil spent most of last week being filibustered on abortion while over in the Seanad there's a filibuster trying to prevent the Judicial Appointment Bill from progressing.

Brexit is the burning issue, but we're in a holding pattern until at least December 11, when the House of Commons votes on the deal. To fill time and look busy, the Government has been going around launching 'funds' for rural folk, urbanites and even climate change.

And in the background, the talks on a new confidence and supply arrangement are continuing without any hint of urgency.

The point in time when either Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin could have sparked a pre-Christmas election has passed, so it will now be next year at the earliest.

More than a month of talking has amounted to little more than briefings from civil servants on housing, health and, most recently, broadband.

Unlike during previous discussions, there are very few leaks - because as one of those involved put it "there's nothing to leak".

Last Thursday, Fianna Fáil representatives Dara Calleary, Michael McGrath, Lisa Chambers and Charlie McConalogue got the inside story on climate change and the National Broadband Plan.

Over the course of three-and-a-half hours, they were given the logic behind the rollout proposals for broadband and talked through how it could still work out OK despite being marred in controversy.

They left feeling better informed but "still a bit sceptical". There were no threats to pull the plug. In fact, there weren't even any rows - because neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael wants that right now.

On Friday, Mr Martin said his party had "created stability and space" for the Government to negotiate Brexit. And to be fair, given the make-up of this Dáil, there has been remarkable stability. When compared with the madness of Westminster, our TDs look like proper Statesmen and women.

Mr Martin criticised Mr Varadkar's performance in housing and health - but claimed Fianna Fáil was managing to manipulate policy without actually having any jobs in government. It was fairly predictable fare. Inevitably the question of whether he is election ready came up.

"All parties are in a state of readiness for the unexpected to happen. If something happens in a hurry, most parties would get their posters out," he said in a most unthreatening tone. He predicted his party would increase its number of seats after the next election.

But that election is looking further away than anybody predicted. Next February will mark three years since the last general election. Did anybody really believe this Dáil would get this far? With a White House visit around March 17, Brexit Day set for March 29 and the local elections tied down for May 24, it's hard to see where a general election fits in. All the signs are that this 'certain uncertainty' will be renewed in some shape until at least next autumn.

Irish Independent

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