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The return of the Dáil - and Brexit still dominates . . .

Inside Politics: Ploughing Championships open as Central Bank warns a third of farms could struggle to survive under a no-deal

The Dáil gives the Opposition a platform to take on the Government that it lacked during the summer

Good morning and welcome to the first Politics Digest of the new Dáil term, which begins today. The Dáil is back from the summer recess a mere three weeks after the schools returned and barely two months after it adjourned in July.

Political correspondents, of course, are enthusiastic supporters of long Dáil recesses, while reserving the right to criticise TDs for the length of their holidays. Talk about having your cake and eating it. Anyway, we can expect a busy, exciting and uncertain few months ahead.

Just like it was when the Dáil adjourned, Brexit is the dominant story. Our lead story today reports on a Central Bank study that warns a third of all farms could struggle to survive a no-deal Brexit - an economic Armageddon in a sector already under severe pressure.

Inside the paper, Brussels correspondent Patrick Smyth describes Boris Johnson's rather unfortunate visit to Luxembourg yesterday where he 1) met Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch and Brexit discussions, 2) met Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel for same, sans lunch, and 3) biffed off without staying for the press conference.


The British papers are by turns outraged or excoriating. “Luxembourg laughs in Johnson’s face” roars the Telegraph. “Johnson left humiliated” says the Guardian.

The message Johnson received from the two gentlemen was the same as he has received from Leo Varadkar (last week), Angela Merkel (27 days ago), Emmanuel Macron (same time) and anyone else in the EU he deigns to ask: bring forward your proposals, and we will consider them. But as yet, rien.

This is interpreted in some quarters as a carefully calibrated negotiating tactic designed to put the EU and Ireland on the back foot when Johnson does table worked-out proposals when the time available to avoid a no-deal is even shorter than it is now. In that case it is based on a goodly amount of optimism and not a great amount of observation of how the EU has conducted the negotiations to date.

It is interpreted in other quarters - in much of the EU - as evidence Johnson is not serious about wanting a deal. EU diplomats and politicians alike are increasingly bemused by the regular British claims a deal is near.

If there is to be a new deal - a changed withdrawal agreement - it is likely it will feature special arrangements for Northern Ireland. Yesterday, the new Northern Secretary, Julian Smith, was in Dublin for a series of meetings with Ministers and Opposition leaders, and he suggested a revived Stormont could play a role in affording democratic legitimacy to any arrangements for the North that differed from the rest of the UK.

But as Irish officials stress, that is a long way away from a worked-out plan with buy-in from the Northern parties. The DUP tried to sound an optimistic note (and party leader Arlene Foster is in Dublin tomorrow evening for an engagement with business leaders), though Sinn Fein did not. It wants the British government to arm-twist the DUP back into the executive.

"High farce" is Paddy Smyth's verdict on Boris's visit to Luxembourg. Elsewhere, Denis Staunton is at the Liberal Democrats conference.

Ploughing on as politicians head for Carlow

The Cabinet also meets this morning where there will be, inevitably, further discussions on Brexit. But it’s also the time of the year for budget making, and much of the business of Government at senior official level will be taken up with this for the next three weeks.

As Fiach Kelly reports this morning, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will today warn all-comers the prospect of a no-deal means there can be no fiscal looseness this year, no few hundred million extra on budget day to solve political problems.

This, of course, is what they say every year, although Donohoe’s junking of Fine Gael’s promise to cut income tax - the centrepiece of the Taoiseach’s ardfheis speech last year - is certainly an indication of some intent. Donohoe will attend the Budget Oversight Committee this afternoon to hammer home the point.

Meanwhile, some of his colleagues will be heading for the Ploughing Championships in Carlow, a necessary pilgrimage for all national politicians. There they will unwisely pose with children and animals, and try to avoid being harangued about the price of beef by angry farmers.

After the Taoiseach’s comments about eating less meat on environmental grounds rose hackles among some farmers earlier this year - leading to some protesters shouting “Gwan ya vegan!” at him - expect Leo Varadkar to enthusiastically munch burgers at every opportunity when he visits later in the week.

Michael D is there today and may even speak to the press, so hold the front page of the website, as we say. And he’s giving a speech in Dublin Castle before he goes. Let’s hope they give him a burger too when he gets there.

Best reads

Fiach Kelly has a preview of the Dáil term.

You know that referendum on voting rights for emigrants and citizens residing outside the State (including in Northern Ireland)? Not likely this year.

Denis Staunton is at the Liberal Democrats conference.

Fintan on the Apple appeal, which begins today

Jack Horgan-Jones has the latest on the row over the Public Services Card - the Government is pushing back against the Data Protection Commissioner but will publish her full report today.

This will make you grind your teeth: the cost of rebuilding Priory Hall, the nadir of shoddy Celtic Tiger building, will exceed €50 million.


The Dáil meets at 2pm for Leaders’ Questions - watch what the Opposition are raising for signs of where they think the Government is vulnerable - and foreign affairs questions (more Brexit, yes) will be followed by statements on the beef dispute.

The Budgetary Oversight committee meets at 1pm.

The Apple case hearing opens in Luxembourg this morning.

And the Cabinet meets at Government Buildings.

Full Oireachtas details are here. The Seanad, alas, does not return until next week.

The rhythm of the political week will change now the Dáil is back. The Taoiseach appears for extended Dáil sessions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; Ministers are on a rota for parliamentary questions and must also appear before topical debates, Private Members’ motions, committees and so on.

The Dáil gives the Opposition a platform to take on the Government that it lacked during the summer. This is, it is widely assumed, the last parliamentary session of this Dáil, which will give way to a general election sooner or later. Like so much else, that depends on Brexit. But with parties jockeying for election advantage, it is sure to be a saucy, scrappy few months.

When you can't keep an eye on it, we'll keep an eye on it for you. We'll update throughout the day, interpret events as best we can and give our insights from Leinster House and environs. You'll get us - breaking news, sharp analysis, punchy commentary - in print and online at So that's what we'll do. The rest of you: have an utterly fruity day.