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Dáil breaks for summer hols but political temperature set to be 'a little higher' on its return

The Dáil recess kicked in on Thursday, with politicians not due back until mid-September.

POLITICIANS IN LEINSTER HOUSE headed off on their holidays this week.

The Dáil recess kicked in yesterday, with politicians not due back until 20 September, one week later than is usual.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl often likes to give a send-off speech on the last day.

This time around, he urged TDs to spend time with their families this summer.

“We are not going through a dress rehearsal,” he said. “If [you] do not do it now, [you] will not get the opportunity to do it in the future.”

He said the “cynics will think we are off on our long holidays, as they will always do. The Members know, and I know, that people will be working assiduously in their constituencies”.

“Maybe they should take a little time away from their phones. If Deputy Danny Healy-Rae were here I would be advocating that to him in particular,” he joked.

Some things in life are a constant and always to be relied upon, such as the Kerry TD’s Nokia ringtone going off during Dáil proceedings. 

The Ceann Comhairle also thanked all the journalists “who keep a careful eye on us”.

“They are behind me so I cannot see them, but they are behind all of us all of the time keeping an eye on us. We need to never lose sight of the fact that they fulfil an essential role on behalf of the public in keeping an eye on us and informing the public of what is happening,” he added. 

However looking ahead to the return of the Dáil in autumn, the Ceann Comhairle said he is conscious that we are at a point in the electoral cycle “where tensions are beginning to build”.

There’s been plenty of speculation over when the next general election might be, with some predicting it could be as early as this autumn or winter, while others see the coalition government holding it together to autumn 2024. 

What we do know is pressure will be mounting on political parties who hope to deliver a good election result in the local and European elections next June. 

“Certainly, when we come back in September I suspect the temperature will be a little higher than it is now,” he said. 

There’s no doubt about it that more cracks and tensions will begin to emerge between the three government parties in the months ahead. In fact, we have seen it has started already with the Budget talks this year, with each party trying to carve out a piece of the pie from the expected giant surplus. 

The closer we get to any election, the more each political party in government will work to differentiate themselves from each other.

Fine Gael has already started this with their calls to help ‘middle Ireland’ through tax cuts, while Fianna Fáil has made calls for cuts to USC. The Greens are sticking to what they know: pushing for progress on climate action. 

With some inside the parties arguing that this could be the last Budget before the general election, there’s pressure to have a giveaway budget – but with Michael McGrath in the Minister of Finance seat, there’s also a temptation to want to restore Fianna Fáil’s image when it comes to the public finances, taking a leaf out of the book of ‘prudent Paschal’ and showing that their days of merrily splashing the cash are behind them. 

And while August is usually dubbed ‘silly season’ by the media, in reality, there hasn’t been a ‘silly season’ now for a number of years.

In the last couple of years alone, the Irish political landscape has been rocked in the month of August with Golfgate and Zappone-gate. Politicians now enter into the summer cautiously, knowing that the next controversy might be just around the corner.

The next big headache for politicians will indeed come next month when the Electoral Commission submits its report on the makeup of Dáil constituencies for the next election.

The Commission will ultimately decide how many TDs the next Dáil should have as well as the makeup of the geographical areas that will elect them.

The changes are required to take account of Ireland’s growing population, but politicians fear that the carve-up won’t be fruitful for everyone, with the looming threat of large swathes of voters being moved over to other constituencies. 

Aside from their political futures to worry about, the summer is also crunch-time for Budget talks, with Budget Day moving back to October this year, taking place on Tuesday 11th. 

Each minister will be looking for their fair share of the pie, with McGrath and Donohoe holding the purse strings.

Kite-flying has already begun, with talk of tax cuts, reduced childcare costs and pension hikes, to name but a few.

But as the summer ebbs away, and autumn approaches, the focus will return to the cost-of-living and energy prices. McGrath has already indicated that one-off measures will feature again in this year’s Budget, though he believes inflation will have fallen.

As cold temperatures return and the heating goes back on, there is no doubt that this will return as a hot topic in the autumn term. 

So, with the Covid years in the rearview mirror, will there be a return to the silly-seasons of the past, or will there be no break from controversy for unlucky politicians?

A two month break from Leinster House might seem like a perfect break for most public representatives (and far too long if you ask most members of the public) – but it also leaves a lot of wide open space for trips and falls. 

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