Wednesday 13 December 2017

Troubled waters but all issues need to be on table in government talks

As the political wrangling continues ahead of this week's attempt to form a government, the nation watches on eagerly for what is likely to be either an amalgam of old political foes, or a period of exhaustive re-runs of elections not witnessed since the 1980s.

This Thursday is all about figures as post-election heavyweights look for validation in a bid to become Taoiseach of the 32nd Dáil. As it stands, Enda Kenny can expect 50 votes from his freshly elected TDs, while one assumes Labour's 7 TDs will add to this, putting Enda on 57 votes. Michael Martin has 44 TDs, and Gerry Adams will have the support of his party's 23 TDs. Irrespective of what way the votes of smaller groups and Independents are courted; on current figures alone, we're looking at a hung Dáil unless the big two in the room decide to dance together.

But regardless of the maths of forming a government, the substance has so far been pretty disappointing. Ever since Simon Coveney's revelation on Prime Time that Irish Water needs to be revisited, the debate over Irish Water has dominated much of the post-election discourse.

This is a clear example of pre-election populism becoming a big game player. But should the issue of water charges really garner such attention in trying to form a government? Contentious as it undoubtedly is for many, will the vast majority of Irish citizens be pleased that water has taken precedence over healthcare, homelessness, emigration and housing?

These are the core societal issues that any fledgling government need to address head-on. Water is an important topic but the fact that it is being considered a 'redline issue' by protagonists is considered by some as a screen to hide more pressing policy headaches. Irish Water might be a stone in the shoe but to hear parliamentarians use it as a make or break formula for government smacks of parish pump politics.

Fianna Fail stole a march when they put forward proposals for Dáil reform as a precondition to negotiations. This will buy the party time ahead of a special Ard Fheis as a large proportion of the party's faithful are believed to oppose any notion of power sharing with Fine Gael.

For Enda Kenny it could be a case of 'Beware the Ides of March'. Following the 2010 leadership challenge, Kenny jokingly said that 'all the long grass had been cut'. But there are many in the party who are not happy with how the election went. Halving unemployment and stabilising the public finances did not reap the dividend many in Fine Gael expected, so Kenny could well be in the line of fire.

Sinn Fein also needs to make its position clear. News this week the party voiced its disapproval to the formation of an opposition in Stormont won't sit well in the south where those who voted for Sinn Fein will demand that the party roll up its sleeves.

This is a critical week for the nation. A week that requires leadership and sacrifice. The electorate wants real issues on the table, not a watered down version of strong medicine that needs to be swallowed.

Wexford People

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