Taoiseach shows sense of pur­pose

Bray People - - OPINION -

THERE WAS a sense of some­thing dif­fer­ent, even his­toric, about the gather­ing of the 31st Dáil last week. There were many ob­vi­ous changes: the massed ranks of the gov­ern­ment par­ties with their mas­sive ma­jor­ity, the pres­ence of Sinn Féin pres­i­dent Gerry Adams at the head of his greatly strength­ened party, the num­bers of in­de­pen­dents had swelled and Fianna Fáil, bat­tered into a cor­ner of the cham­ber by the anger of the elec­torate, was a di­min­ished and hum­bled force.

The more im­por­tant dif­fer­ence had to do with more than mere ‘op­tics’ - to bor­row a phrase that was pop­u­lar among speak­ers on the day - there was a sense of re­newal, vigour and fo­cus about the nor­mally staid pro­ceed­ings. The in­de­pen­dents who spoke broke with the tra­di­tion laid down by their pre­de­ces­sors and fo­cused on na­tional rather than purely lo­cal is­sues.

The one ex­cep­tion was South Kerry’s Tom Flem­ing who used his time to speak about a threat to jobs in his home patch of Castleis­land. The for­mer Fianna Fáil stal­wart was first or­dered back into line by the Ceann Comhairle and was then usurped by his fel­low South Kerry in­de­pen­dent Michael Healy Rae who was happy to in­form the Dáil that he had al­ready qui­etly ad­dressed the mat­ter in ques­tion with the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment. But even Healy Rae broke with his own fam­ily tra­di­tion by other­wise ad­dress­ing his re­marks to the state of the nation rather than mat­ters such as the state of his lo­cal roads.

In­de­pen­dent deputies Ming and Mick Wal­lace showed that pony­tails and lurid shirts are no bar­rier to talk­ing sense and Joe Hig­gins, speak­ing for the left-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents’ tech­ni­cal group, de­liv­ered a typ­i­cally feisty speech that left no doubt he would be as much a thorn in the side of Enda Kenny as he was for Ber­tie Ah­ern in the past.

There was a sense of his­tory too in hear­ing Gerry Adams speak as a TD in the Dáil, even if he was was out­shone by Sinn Féin’s young gun, Pearse Do­herty from Done­gal who looks set to be a strong voice in Ir­ish pol­i­tics in the fu­ture. De­spite the reser­va­tions that per­sist about Sinn Féin’s com­mit­ment to demo­cratic pol­i­tics, there was a sense on the day that the party fi­nally sees the bal­lot box, rather than the Ar­malite, as the way for­ward and that is no small ad­vance for pol­i­tics on this is­land.

The first sitting of the new Dáil was a deeply hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence for the rem­nants of the once mighty Fianna Fáil who were hud­dled in a cor­ner. But Micheál Martin seemed to warm to the role of op­po­si­tion leader and while he was will­ing to aban­don the tra­di­tion of vot­ing against the ma­jor­ity party’s nom­i­nee for Taoiseach he quickly demon­strated that he won’t be lack­ing in fight­ing spirit.

It was re­fresh­ing too to see a clear sense of pur­pose in an in­com­ing Taoiseach af­ter the waf­fle and blus­ter we have en­dured in re­cent years. The econ­omy is firmly at the top of the gov­ern­ment’s agenda and Enda Kerry was un­equiv­o­cal about his de­ter­mi­na­tion to set about the task of ad­dress­ing the mas­sive prob­lems that be­set the nation.

What he and his gov­ern­ment will ac­tu­ally man­age to achieve is an­other mat­ter. Be­fore the week was out he was be­ing told in no un­cer­tain terms by our French and Ger­man EU part­ners that there is no room for ma­noeu­vre in rene­go­ti­at­ing the crip­pling terms of our EU/IMF bailout pack­age; in short Europe has done its bit for Ire­land and any­thing more will come at price. At the week­end we learned that our banks need an­other €25 bil­lion, mean­while 1,000 peo­ple are leav­ing the coun­try ev­ery week, busi­nesses are clos­ing down be­cause they can’t get credit from the banks and their cus­tomers are afraid to spend the money they have stashed away.

The out­look is bleak and in re­al­ity there is not a whole lot this gov­ern­ment, or any gov­ern­ment, can do to make it right any­time soon. But we can have a greater unity of pur­pose from our politi­cians in fac­ing up to the mas­sive chal­lenge and most im­por­tantly we can have open and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple of Ire­land. The open­ing day in the Dáil gave a sense that this might hap­pen; if it does that alone will be a huge achieve­ment for Ir­ish pol­i­tics.

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