Monday 11 November 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'We've escaped dreaded Christmas election - but months of political mudslinging awaits'

 

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Having escaped a dreaded Christmas election you'd think our TDs would put their heads down and get on with the job.

Based on current (shaky) projections we won't be going to the polls until next May. And if a week is a long time in politics, then there is a lot that could be achieved in those seven months.

The welcome break from Brexit has allowed us to look more closely at our home-grown problems.

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In the past week it became glaringly obvious that we need a serious conversation about the direct provision system which is creaking partly because of another one of our big issues, the housing crisis.

On Friday we saw images of patients sleeping on floors in a hospital. Hundreds of jobs have unexpectedly been lost in recent weeks.

And when those issues have got genuine attention, the TDs could sort their own house in the wake of a voting scandal and now questions over the gaping holes in Leinster House's expenses system.

But the omens aren't great and we could be on course for the longest, most drawn-out and downright bitchy election campaign ever.

The biggest of this Dáil's achievements was that it managed to stay afloat for almost four years.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has even admitted that his minority Government has at times struggled to push real reform. Paralysed by 'new politics'.

The two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, both see an election as an opportunity for real power and were largely ready for a November election.

Mr Varadkar's decision to stall things until next year has left some in the Oireachtas with a lot of pent-up electioneering.

Now they could let off steam by campaigning in any of the four by-elections that will formally get under way this week - but it's just not the same.

Over the weekend there were two examples of pre-election stretching. Yesterday morning Fine Gael hit 'send' on its latest social media lambasting of Fianna Fáil.

The nicely cut graphics told us that more than three-quarters of Fianna Fáil's frontbench have failed to produce a single detailed policy paper since 2016.

Dublin South-West TD Colm Brophy issued a lengthy press release asking "where is their plan for the country?"

"The public deserve to know how Fianna Fáil would tackle some of the biggest issues facing society. But my analysis exposes Fianna Fáil as being bereft of solutions," he said, citing a lack of ideas on housing, mental health, childcare, the economy and so on.

"For instance, Micheál Martin has already said he will not sign off on the National Broadband Plan. What do Fianna Fáil offer as an alternative?

"'Roll out high-speed, quality broadband across the State' is all their website states. No details, no substance, no costings, no timeframe."

Cue indignation from the hard-working members of the Fianna Fáil's frontbench. They fell right into the Fine Gael trap and tweeted their outrage en masse. At least 12 senior party TDs, including finance spokesman Michael McGrath and justice chief Jim O'Callaghan, reacted to the video.

Naturally they felt the need to fight back against political charges but in the process they ensured the claims went far beyond the reach of Fine Gael's natural audience.

The exchange wasn't edifying for either side.

Perhaps Fine Gael was feeling a bit stung by the other bit of campaigning that took place over the weekend in the pages of the 'Sunday Independent'.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin used an interview to muse about how he would be a different sort of Taoiseach from Leo Varadkar.

"I would bring substance to the office," the elder statesman said. "I want to get things done when I become Taoiseach. I just don't want to parade around the place."

Subtlety doesn't always work so Mr Martin went on to spell it out for us: "It's photo-shoots, it's big announcements about big plans for 2040, when most people I meet are worried about whether their daughter will get a house next year."

When the election comes we can put both parties' plans under scrutiny - but if they are genuinely so perturbed by all our social ills they must agree at least a few policies that can be enacted under confidence and supply in the meantime.

Otherwise we are facing into seven wasted months of mudslinging.

Irish Independent

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