‘New Politics’ a year on is at best a work in progress

Is the experiment worth persisting with if it does not begin to deliver results over the next 12 months?

 

Last year’s general election inaugurated the era of “new politics” in which the executive no longer orders the business of the Dáil but is instead dependent on it for its ability to govern from one day to the next.

The stalemate produced by the decision of the electorate last February means the 32nd Dáil is very different from all its predecessors. The Fine Gael led minority Government is more than 20 seats short of a majority and relies on the goodwill of Fianna Fáil to get any of its measures through the House.

A year on from the election the jury is still out on whether the experiment is actually working. Its proponents had hoped that the shift in power from the executive to the Dáil would make politics more open and accountable and lead to greater public understanding of the decision making process.

So far there is little evidence of this happening. Instead it appears that decision making at government level has slowed to a snail’s pace with Ministers and senior civil servants reluctant to propose legislation for fear it will be amended beyond recognition in the Dáil.

The most positive thing that can be said is that the Government has managed to survive since last May. To quote Dr Johnson’s observation about a dog walking on his hind legs. “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

It is worth asking, though, whether the experiment is worth persisting with if it does not begin to deliver results over the next 12 months. The confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil did allow the budget to go through last year but apart from Simon Coveney’s housing bill not much else of importance was enacted. In tandem with the difficulty of enacting legislation the Government has lost 13 Dáil votes including four in a single day last month.

If this continues at the same rate in the coming year the government will find it increasingly difficult to exercise any authority and prolonging its existence may serve no further useful purpose at a critical time, primarily because of Brexit beginning in earnest.

The forthcoming change of leadership in Fine Gael will also have an impact on the government’s survival prospects.Mr Coveney was its principal architect in the months after the election, doing everything in his power to accommodate the concerns of the Independents who joined its ranks and of Fianna Fáil who stood back to accommodate its formation.

His leadership rival Leo Varadkar was sceptical about “new politics” from the beginning and does not appear to have become a convert.

The election of Mr Coveney would probably mean a slightly longer time frame for the minority government but even his patience was tested by the lengthy negotiations with Fianna Fáil required to get his much needed housing bill into law. The next budget in the autumn will test the limits of the Government and its new leader.

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