Signs of Coalition losing nerve as winning post looms
Labour under pressure from those who opposed participation in government in the first place
The real achievement of Labour in this Government is that it has helped to minimise the impact of the crash on ordinary people. By adopting the language of their enemies and talking about the need to end “austerity”, senior people in the party are only helping to undermine their own position.
The only way Labour will come out of this Coalition with a real chance of retaining most of its seats at the next election is if the country is well on the way to recovery by that time. The party needs to stay in power long enough to be able to deliver at least one expansionary budget but slowing the rate of adjustment at this stage is hardly the best way to get to that position.
If the Tánaiste has put himself out on a limb over the budget, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has done the same on the Seanad referendum. This is his pet project and the timing is also his responsibility. Many of his colleagues in Fine Gael are distinctly lukewarm about it, while a number of Labour TDs are openly hostile to the notion of abolishing the Upper House.
Losing the Seanad referendum would hardly amount to a disaster but would certainly put a dent in Kenny’s credibility. That is why it is vitally important for his authority and that of the Government as a whole that he convinces the electorate to back him.
The programme of Dáil reform announced during the week is more extensive than many on both sides of the Seanad argument had expected. While it won’t transform the Dáil overnight, it will open up the legislative process to the wider civil society and will give TDs a greater opportunity to participate in the shaping of legislation.
It will also represent a challenge for civil servants to adjust to a new way of doing business in the public eye. In the long run that should benefit them as it will give the public an opportunity to see the kind of commitment so many senior officials give to their work.
One problem with the reforms is that it is questionable how much credit voters will give to TDs who devote most of their effort to participating in the legislative process.
As long as our system of multiseat proportional representation remains in place, the pressure on TDs will be to keep delivering for their constituents rather than engage in law-making.
The big disappointment of the constitutional convention is that while it has proposed a number of relatively minor amendments it shied away from recommending any change in the electoral system. It is difficult to see how Dáil reform without electoral reform will really change the system.