THIS week saw Dáil sittings finishing up for the summer recess and TDs heading back to their constituencies for a break and to prepare for the possibility of a general election that could be called any time from the autumn onwards if the Confidence and Supply Arrangement between the Fine Gael-Independent Alliance coalition’s minority government and Fianna Fáil is not renewed after Budget 2019, which will be the main business they will be facing on their return at the end of September.
The past term was longer than usual because of Easter falling so early this year, but was mainly dominated by the referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment, a contentious issue for several decades, which the government and its allies saw passed after a people-led campaign. The next step – the enactment of legislation to reflect the will of the majority of voters for abortion to be provided in Ireland – will not be as straightforward as many people seem to think and will be debated in great detail after the Budget next term.
The other big issue that has consumed a lot of the government’s time and energy during the term just gone is Brexit and – far from being clearer about where it is going to lead for the island of Ireland – there seems to be more confusion and uncertainty about it now than there was when the people of the United Kingdom voted for it just over three years ago. There are even fears that Britain could exit the European Union without a deal and that ultimate ‘hard Brexit’ could be chaotic for Ireland in particular.
However, the most pressing issues on the home front that the government is unable to get to grips with remain health and housing, with ready accessibility to the former still based on one’s ability to pay rather than on medical needs. Progress towards an NHS-style model, as per the agreed 10-year Sláintecare plan published in May of last year, is painfully slow.
As for housing and homelessness, there are so many plans on the go that it is confusing. The facts of the matter are that only 14,500 new housing units were provided last year, but 35,000 are needed annually, while homelessness remains around the 10,000 people mark.