The Irish Times view on the return of the Dáil: back to ‘normal’ political business

Measures adopted to implement the ambitious Climate Action Plan will measure the commitment of all sides to the action required to respond to climate change

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and TánaisteLeo Varadkar at the launch of the Government’s new housing plan at Government Buildings in Dublin last week. Photograph: Maxwells

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and TánaisteLeo Varadkar at the launch of the Government’s new housing plan at Government Buildings in Dublin last week. Photograph: Maxwells

 

A debate that will shape the course of politics in the coming months will mark the return of the Dáil today after the summer recess. Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will be a crucial test of Government stability and will also set the tone for political engagement during the remaining lifetime of the 33rd Dáil.

The Covid pandemic has given an unnatural air to Dáil proceedings since the 2020 general election. The fact that the parliament has been meeting in the cavernous National Convention Centre, with vast social distance between TDs during debates, has added to the chamber’s sense of remoteness.

Things will be back to something like normal today when business resumes in Leinster House. The fact that the first major debate is on an issue of confidence which has the capacity to bring down the Coalition has added a sense of drama to the return to Kildare Street. The outcome will have important implications for both Government and Opposition.

Nobody in the political world seriously believes that the Government will be defeated as it has a reasonable majority. Unless the unthinkable happens and a number of Fianna Fáil TDs defy their own whip, the Coalition will be safe. What the debate will do, however, is test the mood across all three Coalition parties. There have been rumblings in all of them at the various faux pas of the summer and it will be telling to note how many TDs are prepared to rally publicly to the defence of the minister under attack.

The debate will also say something about the Opposition. Sinn Féin is attempting to capitalise on the Government’s self-inflicted difficulties. That is an understandable tactic from its perspective but although the ploy may embarrass the Coalition, it could also prompt the three parties to pull together in a more cohesive fashion for the rest of the session. It will also be a test for the smaller Opposition parties such as Labour and the Social Democrats as to whether they have any distinctive contribution to make to proceedings or are merely content to follow the agenda dictated by Sinn Féin.

Once the confidence debate is out of the way it will be time to focus on the serious business of running the country. The Coalition has done a reasonably good job in its handling of the Covid pandemic, which was the biggest task by far confronting it from the start. It needs to do as well on the other big issues that need to be progressed in the coming Dáil session. The framing of Budget 2022 and the phasing out of the pandemic payments will test the skill of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe while the measures adopted to implement the ambitious Climate Action Plan will measure the commitment of all sides to the action required to respond to climate change.

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