After almost 100 days, new politics isn’t working

That tinny noise is the sound of cans being kicked down the road

The Government will shortly be in a position to mark 100 days in office. Fine Gael has little to show for it, other than a swathe of ministerial positions, while Fianna Fáil has emerged as the increasingly dominant party, holding a weak and divided Coalition to account. Ten weeks of fractious, intensive talks leading to the re-election of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach appear to have exhausted the coalition parties. Having staggered across the line with the help of compromises and conditional commitments, they were greeted by a novel parliamentary situation. They called it 'new politics'. And it isn't working.

Unfettered executive power and a rigid whip system are the enemies of accountability. In threatening economic and security situations, however, they can offer stability. At the moment, with Brexit on the horizon and the economy showing signs of contraction, the Government is treading water. There is little appetite to tackle unpopular issues, Cabinet solidarity is lacking and there is a worrying degree of fiscal complacency.

Depending on external support for survival, the Government has largely avoided the legislative process. Measures are being prepared in response to criminal activity and Court decisions, but not a single new Bill appeared on the statute books. Instead, expert groups, a citizens’ convention and various committees have been established to consider what might be done to resolve political, social and medical challenges. That tinny noise, before the Dáil went on holidays, was of cans being kicked down the road.

In its bedding-in period, the Government suffered a number of humiliating setbacks. Fianna Fáil displayed its pivotal muscle by forcing through a Private Members Bill favouring distressed mortgage holders that was probably unconstitutional. It set the tone for a Cabinet revolt by Independent Ministers on the issue of abortion. Ignoring constitutional advice, they challenged the authority of the Taoiseach and forced a free vote. Within weeks – following a number of political misjudgements – Mr Kenny’s leadership was being challenged within his own party.


On the positive side, Simon Coveney launched an expansive building programme in response to homelessness and the housing crisis that received broadly positive reactions. Some aspects that lacked detail or required legislation attracted muted threats from Fianna Fáil. The party took a more aggressive approach towards Joe O'Toole and water charges. A Government beholden to its main opponent and lacking the numbers to legislate is living on borrowed time. So is the Taoiseach who, as would-be challengers feign disinterest, is clinging to office. Fianna Fáil's conditional offer to provide support for the minority Government on votes of confidence and money issues is beginning to fray. Agreeing the terms of an October Budget will be extremely fraught.