THERE is an element of being in the Last Chance Saloon for our politicians when it comes to their very credibility in the eyes of the public as they go about their efforts to form a government that needs to be sustainable for some reasonable period of time. At the time of going to press, it looked unlikely that any of the party leaders would amass enough votes to be elected as Taoiseach at the first meeting of the 32nd Dáil on Thursday, March 10th.
As Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and some others pointed out, it was impossible to make an informed decision on who to vote for as Taoiseach at this stage with no programme for government agreed between any parties and/or individuals. The only thing likely to change this week is that Enda Kenny’s status will become that of caretaker Taoiseach.
Assuming that the outgoing Taoiseach gets more votes than any of his opponents – in spite of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s best efforts to stymie and embarrass him – the imperative will remain with Enda Kenny to form the next government. This is an unenviable task, and thankless to boot, however somebody has to show the necessary leadership in order to fill the unwelcome political vacuum that currently exists.
The big problem is that it is so difficult to figure out who exactly the electorate wants in government after the way the voting in the general election went, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil being the only combination of parties having enough seats to form a government, but reluctant to put their tribal differences aside despite the great similarities between their respective policy platforms. There are issues on which they differ, such as water charges, that can be agreed with focused compromise negotiations, but these may take some time with the annual ministerial promotional trips abroad next week to coincide with St Patrick’s Day, followed just over a week later by the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations.
In the meantime, there has been a greater willingness across a lot of the parties to consider introducing some badly-needed political reform, especially concerning how the Dáil conducts its business, before any programme for government is agreed. Any such reform would be widely welcomed by the public, whose disillusionment with our politicians and the way they operate was tangible during the general election campaign.
In this regard, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin stole another march on all the others by being the first to propose, in the immediate aftermath of the election, that the opportunity be taken to agree and implement reform of how politics is done in this country – one of several promises made by the last government which they failed to deliver on. The suggestion must be a red line issue in whatever programme for government is agreed, with an urgent timetable for its implementation laid down.
As Fine Gael’s veteran backroom strategist Frank Flannery stated, politicians need to redeem themselves in the eyes of the electorate. The only way this can be done is by making our political system more open and transparent. People have become weary of the ‘same old same old’ and change is needed to restore some modicum of confidence in our politicians.