WHEN the season of annual think-ins by our political parties arrives, it’s a sure sign that the return of Dáil Éireann sittings is imminent. Our TDs return to the chamber next Tuesday afternoon after their two months of summer holidays.
The parties try to give the outward impression that these think-ins are for the good of the country and, in fairness, they do discuss some policy direction, but ultimately they are looking out for their respective parties’ own good, especially with uncertainty about what might happen if the Confidence & Supply Agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that is propping up the current minority government is not renewed after the announcement of Budget 2019 four weeks from now.
A game of cat and mouse has been going on between Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and his Fianna Fáil equivalent Micheál Martin about renewing the agreement, with a more confident and jaunty Taoiseach making public an invitation to immediate talks about renewing the Confidence & Supply Agreement for two years with a view to a general election in the summer of 2020.
However, the FF leader does not want to engage in any such talks until after the announcement of Budget 2019 on October 9th and, even then, he would only envisage a one-year extension at most. Also, there are many in his own party who don’t want to see it renewed, but it’s not that simple as FF are lagging well behind FG in the opinion polls and precipitating an election, however it might come about, could spell trouble for them.
While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he does not expect a general election in the immediate future, he said that it was ‘prudent’ to be prepared for one nonetheless. But, with all the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations, most people would concede that we need stability in government until the talks have been concluded to our satisfaction, albeit this may smack of wishful thinking!
In the meantime, the big issues that dominated this month’s party think-ins were the housing and homelessness crises and it is clear that they need to be tackled with renewed urgency, given the paucity of progress on these important issues to date. Sinn Féin’s upcoming motion of no confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is only a populist political sideshow that is not going to solve anything.
Also, as we head towards another winter, our public health service is badly in need of attention and, unless adequate funding is provided for the implementation of the much-touted Sláintecare plan, things will only get worse.