Sunday 24 March 2019

Silly season is over and its time for our political leaders to get serious


Editorial Comment

After their lengthy summer vacation our political leaders will return to work in Leinster House in a little under a fortnight's time.

It promises to be an interesting Dáil term with many serious issues that need to be dealt with as soon as the Dáil and Seanad terms get underway.

In purely political terms the first item on the agenda for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will be the negotiation of the budget and a renegotiation of the confidence-and-supply deal that props up Leo Varadkar's minority government.

Talks on a renewal of the deal promise to be lively with both Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin involved in a complicated game of electoral chess that will define their - and their parties' - political futures.

The budget negotiations are at the heart of the game and it will be intriguing to see how Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar will play it and what will emerge on budget day.

Both will be seeking to woo voters with budget tax breaks and increased spending while at the same time trying to limit the political boost for their other.

Mr Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe must do all that while also keeping the Independents - particularly Shane Ross - that support the Government happy.

It promises to be an interesting affair at the very least.

In the meantime we shall also have the spectacle of the Presidential election to enjoy and it looks set to be quite the battle.

Presidential elections are notoriously ugly affairs and this looks likely to be one of the most bitter yet.

The incumbent Michael D Higgins may have assumed - as did most commentators - that he would sail back into the Áras but now he is facing a tough fight to stay in the palatial Phoenix Park residence for another seven years.

His primary opponent Sean Gallagher - who came remarkably close to winning the Áras race last time out, only to have his campaign derailed by an appalling RTÉ blunder - will be a gritty and determined adversary and we can expect to see the polls narrow significantly in the weeks ahead.

One imagines the President would be feel a lot more comfortable politically if Mr Gallagher had opted to sit this race out but with three 'Dragons' Den' stars now vying to oust him from Áras an Uachtaráin it could work in Mr Higgins' favour as the vote may split if they make onto the ballot paper.

Away from politics there are other hugely important issues that need to be dealt with.

Thousands of people - including many hundreds of families - remain homeless while a massively overheated property market returns to the financial lunacy of the boom.

The health service is in crisis with hundreds of patients on trolleys every day, nurses overworked and underpaid and countless vital doctor and consultant positions remaining unfilled.

Aside from those crises, the Government must navigate Ireland through Brexit; pass long awaited legislation on abortion and pass the fractious alcohol bill. It's going to be quite a winter.

Enniscorthy Guardian