AFTER 70 DAYS since the general election, lengthy discussions back and forth between parties, we finally have a government.
But, for how long?
The Fine-Gael minority led government, supported by independents and Fianna Fáil from the opposition benches, makes for a Dáil sitting on a knife edge.
A collective of opinions and viewpoints will make it very difficult to get work done – on the other hand, it will ensure proper debate and the end of legislation being railroaded through.
One senior Fine Gael source said the makeup of this Dáil is unlike any they had ever seen before.
We will have to work with everyone to get stuff through. That means there will probably be a lot less legislation going through.
He admitted working with independents presents a challenge. They all have different priorities and ideas – as we saw during negotiations, when each had their own ‘wish-list’.
Where are the risks with the 32nd Dáil?
It took some time to get Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in a room together. What emerged was an eight-page agreement between the two parties (four pages if you remove the white space).
At the core was an agreement that Fianna Fáil will vote against or abstain on any motions of no confidence in the government, ministers and financial measures (which are recognised as confidence votes).
Fianna Fáil has 44 seats so they are pretty important if the government want to avoid any stumbles along the way.
“In accordance with our commitment, we will not vote against the Ministers proposed by the Taoiseach. We will work constructively with them and we will hold them to account,” Micheál Martin said on Friday.
However, within the same breath, he claimed:
We have chosen the role of constructive opposition. We will hold ministers to account for their individual and collective actions. We will demand a decisive shift from the unfair and damaging policies of the past five years. We will vote against the government when we disagree with its proposals and when there is a credible alternative.
Martin has agreed to support Fine Gael to a point but there is a line he won’t cross.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he believed the 32nd Dáil will require a “new collaborative approach not only with the partners of government, but indeed, with the Opposition”.
I believe all of us in the house are ad idem, that our function is to use government, and see it used, to effect the kind of change, opportunity and compassion we need and desire in our society.Yes, the 32nd Dail is an unprecedented challenge. But it is equally an unprecedented opportunity.
In fact it is a unique opportunity to begin today, as a society, a nation, with a government based on an articulated consensus, around the issues that really matter to the lived experience of our people.
The other obstacle is the independents in government and their varied opinions.
Just look at the Eighth Amendment. There is a staunch and vocal supporter for the Repeal campaign in the newly appointed Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.
However, in the same Cabinet is Minister for Climate Change, Denis Naughten, who questioned the introduction of a law to allow for abortion in the case of threatened suicide.
The Programme for Government promises to hold a citizens’ assembly on that matter, as well as other issues including how referenda are held.
The event, Fine Gael hopes, will slow the tide of protest against the Constitutional amendment, giving it breathing room on the always-controversial issue.
So, if it doesn’t fall on such issues, how long will the government last?
Most likely, it will be something unexpected that will bring down the government. A small thing or an unforeseen scandal that people just can’t stand over.
And just like that, we’ll find ourselves back at the ballot boxes again. Despite the agreement with Fianna Fáil for three years, there is a consensus it will not see 2018.
Even if Fianna Fáil and others are honest in their approach and always vote based on what they felt was best, they can essentially take down the government whenever they want. One of the lines in the deal notes that it is a political arrangement and not justiciable.
One Fine Gael TD said it won’t last past Christmas, while another was a little more optimistic, estimating an 18-month shelf life.
Make no mistake, if it doesn’t work, we will be the first to pull the plug.