The Irish Times view on the new Dáil term: a time for some big decisions
Brexit will draw every other issue into insignificance
While the usual party political games will occupy day to day proceedings in the Dail in the coming weeks the importance of Brexit will dwarf them all to insignificance. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The Dáil returns today after the summer break for a session that will take place against the backdrop of Brexit, a momentous event which will have an impact on the State for generations to come.
While the usual party political games will occupy day to day proceedings in the Dáil in the coming weeks, the importance of the UK’s impending departure from the EU will dwarf them all to insignificance. The final Brexit deal, assuming EU negotiators and the UK government are capable of agreeing one, will have to be ratified by the Dáil as well as the parliaments of the other members states.
The Irish backstop wording will be of critical importance in the overall context of the deal and the Government could face politically difficult decisions if the EU agrees to significant modifications in the final settlement. Getting the deal ratified by the Dáil could prove to be a major challenge for the minority Government if significant concessions are required. That raises another critical issue that will have to be dealt with in the coming session: the future of the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had his offer of a two-year extension of the deal firmly rebuffed by Micheál Martin, who has yet to make clear what his longer-term intentions are. There has been speculation that he will offer a one-year extension of the deal but so far that has not been confirmed.
If anything, there appears to be growing resistance in Fianna Fáil to any formal extension, with a number of senior figures holding the view that the party should only continue to support the Government on a case by case basis. If that becomes the formal party position Varadkar may be tempted to go to the country to seek a mandate to govern.
In the meantime the two parties will complete the terms of the existing arrangement with talks on the Budget, which is due to be delivered on October 9th. While there will inevitably be some brinkmanship in the run up to budget day the strong likelihood is that they will iron out their differences, as they have done for the past two budgets.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has made it clear that he aims to introduce a prudent measure with a careful balance of spending increases and limited changes in taxation. Fianna Fáil will be anxious to claim ownership of any spending increases, particularly any that apply to pensioners.
Another big issue which will get an early airing this session is the Scally report into the treatment of cervical cancer patients. The health and political systems did not come well out of that report, and its lessons must be absorbed. Implementing Dr Gabriel Scally’s recommendations should be a priority in the coming term.