It is traditional, around this time of year, for political wags to predict a winter of discontent for the Government. This time last year, the prospect of energy bills the size of a mortgage payment beckoned, not to mention power shortages and rampant price inflation. The year before, it was the second Covid winter and the arrival of Delta and Omicron waves – the year before that, we were on a path towards the infamous meaningful Christmas. With the exception of Christmas 2020, the coalition has fared better than might have been predicted at the onset of winter.
However, the winter of 2023/2024 brings fresh challenges, and the problems faced are not dramatic crises, but rather more traditional headaches – a kind of political compound interest, built up over three years of government. Today, criminal barristers go on strike while rank-and-file gardaí escalate their war of attrition with their own commissioner. In two weeks, health and community workers are scheduled to strike. The chronic problems in health and housing rumble on. For the beginning of the last full political week before the budget, it’s an inauspicious start. These are the kind of problems that fray the public’s faith in a government’s ability to maintain services and plan for the future: bread and butter stuff.
Nobody can predict with certainty whether the coming winter will be a damaging one for the Government - but two challenges are clear. Firstly, an array of tricky news cycles await in the short term. If this becomes the theme of the winter, it will compound the second problem facing the three coalition parties collectively and individually, each of them facing fairly limp polling: that generating political momentum from here will be tough. In an election cycle that could span 18 months, that is not a great starting point.
The budget will inevitably dominate proceedings for the next week. Pat Leahy reads the tea leaves here, and sees once-off measures in the order of €3.5 billion to €4 billion emerging.
Elsewhere on the front page, the Garda industrial dispute takes centre stage.
Conor Gallagher explains the on-the-ground impact of the Garda action.
Naomi O’Leary writes on a European show of solidarity in Kyiv designed to cover up the cracks on Ukraine.
Fintan O’Toole on the effects of child poverty.
Away from the political diary, Ireland’s Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland beckons. Gerry Thornley writes about Ireland and the novelty of being centre of attention.
Cabinet meets at the slightly later time of 10am in Government buildings. The agenda is fairly light, with the political attention of the week focused on budget proceedings.
The week’s Dáil action begins with Leaders’ Questions at 2pm, followed by Taoiseach’s questions an hour later. Government business in the afternoon is taken up with statements on school transport, before a Sinn Féin motion on childcare fees shortly after 6pm. Tánaiste Micheál Martin takes oral PQs at 8.19pm, before topical issues closes out the day.
Commencement matters opens the day, appropriately enough, in the Seanad at 1pm, followed by the second stage of the Control of Exports Bill 2023 at 3.15pm and statements regarding senior cycle reform at 5.30pm.
At the committees, the day is bookended by hearings in front of the joint committee on assisted dying, which hears from experts on the ethics of end-of-life care in the morning, at 10.30am, and then at 7pm from US-based experts, including from Oregon, where assisted dying in some circumstances is legal.
At 11am, the education committee hears from officials on the future plans of the School Building Unit, and at 3pm the disability committee will continue scrutiny of the autism spectrum disorder bill. Around the same time, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) will be at the defence committee.
At 4pm, the justice committee continues pre-legislative scrutiny of the Irish Prison Service Bill and the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Bill.
Cabinet is also set to consider the Department of Housing’s latest report on its capital spending, and annual reports from An Bord Pleanála and the Heritage Council.