BE HONEST, YOU’VE missed the politicians over the summer haven’t you? What? No? Well tough because the Dáil and Seanad return this week and it’s promising to be a bumper term.
Predicting what’s going to happen isn’t easy. There are known unknowns as one prominent US politician once said.
This time last year who could have predicted that the case of Savita Halappanavar would lead to Ireland legislating for abortion for the first time?
That’s why we’re certain there will be stories that break in the coming months that will reshape the government and the Dáil’s agenda but here are a few things we can expect and a few questions we’re asking ahead of the return of TDs and Senators on Wednesday.
1. Will the Seanad be abolished?
An early test for the government is of course the Seanad referendum on 4 October. Opinion polls indicate it could be a tight vote which is why Fianna Fáil is sure to hammering its message home while Sinn Féin forms an unusual and awkward alliance with the government.
Of course expect the Seanad itself to spend a lot of time talking about its future during the free-f0r-all Order of Business where Senators will be making statements they hope can land them a few seconds on Oireachtas Report.
It’s also worth remembering the other referendum, the one to establish a Court of Appeal. Given there is currently no vocal opposition to it it is inconceivable that the referendum won’t pass, but as the children’s referendum shows these things are often close-run affairs.
Defeat on this would be disastrous for the government as would defeat in the Seanad referendum particularly given the resources Fine Gael in particular is ploughing into its campaign.
2. What will Budget 2014 bring?
Right after we decide the fate the Seanad we’ll be examining what pain the latest austerity budget is going to inflict. By the end of this month we should know the scale of the Budget adjustment but it seems likely it will now be less than the €3.1 billion that the Troika wants.
Labour and Fine Gael are likely to be at odds over whether its closer to €2 billion or closer to €3 billion with various ministers scrapping over how much money they must take of their departments.
There will be leaks, there will be calls from the opposition to stop the leaks, the government will say that nothing is decided until everything is decided and then come 15 October all will become clear.
Don’t underestimate the possibility of a cut, hidden in the documentation, being so unpalatable that it is reversed.
3. How will Labour cope with growing unease within the party?
Divisions between Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton were made clear in Pat Leahy’s new book ‘The Price of Power’ but with local elections looming Labour as a whole is clearly trying to distance itself from austerity. One must only look at the comments from the Tánaiste about “austerity hawks” last week.
Though unlikely the possibility that the party might pull out of government cannot be ruled out entirely if it can’t agree on the Budget. Though that is not likely it is more realistic to think that the junior coalition partner, having lost TDs in each of the last two budgets, will lose more.
It will also be interesting to observe how the party tries to distinguish itself from Fine Gael in the hope of avoiding a wipeout in the local and European elections next year.
4. What impact will the Dáil reforms have?
The government is hoping that by the first week of October the Dáil will be starting its business earlier and will be sitting for longer. Earlier starts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays will come in addition to other changes in the way legislation is considered.
All going well, we could have our first Europe Week in November and members of the public will be giving their input to committees on proposed legislation. But the opposition is still likely to be complaining about the government’s control over the Dáil’s agenda.
5. How vocal will the Reform Alliance be?
The grouping of TDs and Senators expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party will have it tough just trying to have their voices heard in the Dáil chamber with no automatic speaking rights.
Expect the Reform Alliance, as they’re calling themselves, to be more vocal outside of the Dáil than inside it.
But it will be interesting to see generally how much of a problem they will pose to Fine Gael and the government. And with Brian Walsh already excluding himself from the group how allied will the alliance be by the end of the year?
6. Will Leaders’ Questions be the same old, same old?
While Leaders’ Questions mostly involves Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin having a go at the government while the government brings up Gerry Adams’s past and Fianna Fáil’s time in government in response, questions posed by Technical Group deputies have usually elicited the best responses from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in recent months.
With Wicklow independent Stephen Donnelly being one of the two to pose questions this term it will be interesting to see if he gets up the noses of government as much as he has done at finance questions.
And what impact will the big clock have on curtailing TDs who go overtime?
7. Will we exit the bailout and will there be another one?
The State is on course to exit the bailout programme at the end of this year but there is still another Troika review where the same old problems of health overspending, high unemployment, and failure to implement reforms will probably come up.
There’s no doubt that there has been progress made on a number of fronts by the government but will it be enough to satisfy our EU/IMF overlords?
The likelihood is that Ireland will exit the bailout programme but enter some sort of agreement whereby it has access to a line of funding that would act as a safety net or overdraft in the event that we run into more economic difficulties.
Expect Michael Noonan to inform the Dáil of the intricacies of all this and expect the opposition to complain about the lack of detail and/or not being informed earlier.
8. Will a solution be found to the Priory Hall issue?
The tragic suicide of Fiachra Daly has put the issue of Priory Hall firmly back on the agenda and with the Taoiseach promising to do something about it the families will hope that a solution comes in the next few months.
We can be sure that the opposition parties will seek to make political hay out of the issue and raise it as much as possible in the Dáil.
Pics: Photocall Ireland and Press Association
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Against the clock: Large screens to show TDs how long they can speak for