Think-ins but no ease-ins to new Dáil term
Main political parties focus on Budget and Seanad referendum
Deep in thought... Taoiseach Enda Kenny launches the Fine Gael Seanad campaign at the RHA Dublin last week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
There’s no easing of toes back into the water for national politicians this week - rather a plunge into deep waters. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
There’s no easing of toes back into the water for national politicians this week, rather an ungainly plunge into deep waters.
All three big parties are holding their parliamentary party planning meetings today and tomorrow - or ‘think-ins’ to use the more popular and inaccurate description.
As the Dáil returns this week both the Budget and Seanad campaigns are expected to go into overdrive. And as usual we will get the divisions - some real, some artifice - both within the Coalition and within the Oireachtas. There will be the partly earnest, partly phoney war, within Government on what should and should not be in the Budget.
The figure of €3.1 billion (which is almost meaningless to people in their real lives) will be bandied about for the next three weeks as if Fine Gael and Labour are in mortal combat and their lives depends on either a) keeping it high (FG) or b) getting it low (LP).
The reality is that the figure that will be announced on Budget Day will be in the vicinity of €2.7 billion - I have not spoken to a Minister yet who believes it will be €3.1 billion. But the coalition partners each need to keep that creative tension alive. Each needs to carve out their own distinct identity, show their influence. It is an exercise in marking territory on all available political lamp-posts.
The chorus line for all this, of course, is provided by the high-kicking trio of Ruairi Quinn, James Reilly and Joan Burton, each singing verses of loss and potential loss. Don’t be surprised that they are completely out of step and out of synch with each other. That’s how they put on their shows around here.
The other topic du jour is the Seanad referendum campaign. And none of the three major parties have anything to crow about. The more time goes on the more it appears that the decision by Fine Gael, and subsequently that of Labour, to scrap the Seanad was an arbitrary one taken for reasons of populism and political convenience.
As the campaign has progressed what has been apparent is the lack of thought that has gone into it. The Government campaign has cited other countries where bicameral systems were abandoned but other than name-checking those countries (most which changed well over a generation ago) has provided no context or “meat” as to the rationale behind such moves. If you want to find out why they abandoned them you have to go off and do the donkey work yourself.
The Fine Gael campaign, as outlined in its literature, is archly cynical. It’s focusing on money and fewer politicians. Why? Not because the party believes passionately in that. No, it’s because that’s what the focus groups have told them is the lowest common denominator and will have most purchase with most people.