Minority Government Stretched Thin in Torrid Political Landscape

 
 

Nearing the Government’s 200th day in office, Brían Donnelly lays down the challenges the Kenny administration faces.

 

SINCE the formation of this minority government last May, many have placed little faith in its ability to deal with the innumerable obstacles which dog the State. Weaknesses inherent in its Parliamentary make-up are referenced to demonstrate that the Fine-Gael-Independent Coalition supported by Fianna Fáil is incapable of simply surviving, let alone tackling budgetary issues, constitutional reform, public service strikes, or the existential ‘British Question’ of Brexit.

Laying bare the turbulent relationships between many cabinet members, Fine Gael Seanad Leader Jerry Buttimer remarked recently that Ministers breaching ‘collective cabinet responsibility’ should resign. Referring to cabinet tensions between Fine Gael ministers and members of the Independent Alliance, he declared that “all members of the cabinet are bound” by a decision, and the best recourse to oppose any decision in particular is to “resign.”

While this referred to the demand that Independent Alliance members be allowed a ‘free vote’ on TD Clare Daly’s recently defeated motion calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment, which protects the right to life of the unborn, intra-Cabinet relationships have soured over more than this issue. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone stated that she almost resigned over the government’s appeal to the European Commission’s finding that Apple Inc. had benefited from unlawful state aid. Among Fine Gael Ministers alone, the Irish Times has reported that some cabinet members do not believe in the competencies of Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Mary Mitchell O’Connor. An anonymous cabinet member claimed that O’Connor is simply not “up to the job.”

“Minister Varadkar had labelled Martin as a ‘deceiver’ before the February election and claims that the Fianna Fáil leader is ‘unbelievably easy to wind up.’”

Critics have been quick to point out that relations between government ministers are not the only risks to the stability and viability of the government. Support from Fianna Fáil has been essential to pass most legislation, particularly the budget, a task which some anticipated would trigger an election.

Although amicable relations must be maintained, between the two parties’ TDs, clashes have been public and frequent, especially between Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD and Minister of Social Welfare Leo Varadkar. Varadkar, who is widely speculated to be in the running for the position of leader in a post-Kenny Fine Gael, has been accused of being ‘PR-obsessed’ by Martin, while Minister Varadkar had labelled Martin as a ‘deceiver’ before the February election and claims that the Fianna Fáil leader is ‘unbelievably easy to wind up.’

Having forced Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to alter Fine Gael’s first-time home buyers’ scheme in Budget 2017, despite the fact that Fianna Fáil approved it in private talks, tensions between the two parties may be reaching boiling point. Polls released on 23rd and 27th October show narrow leads in support for both parties, but well within the margin of error, so unless there is a serious deterioration in relations, many believe an early election will not be forced.

Following a summer of public unrest, during which both the Luas and Dublin Bus drivers went on strike, the issue of pay restoration for public servants has only partially been resolved. Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) went on strike on October 27th, and are planning a second day of industrial action for November 8th, when second-level students were expected to return to school after the mid-term break. At the time of writing, Gardaí were in talks with government officials to ward off industrial action planned for next week. Pundits expect other public sector workers such as nurses to make claims for pay restoration following any successful deal with the Gardaí.

Many opposition leaders, including Labour’s Brendan Howlin TD, have asserted that the government has failed to adequately prepare for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Little consolation has been received from Downing Street as to Northern Ireland’s future position, with experts decrying the blasé attitudes of politicians who believe the border will remain completely open.

“Little consolation has been received from Downing Street as to Northern Ireland’s future position, with experts decrying the blasé attitudes of politicians who believe the border will remain completely open.”

Former Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton wrote in the Irish Times in June, stating that the UK could not expect to have an open border with the Republic, as it is a “fully-fledged member of the European Union, applying faithfully all aspects of the principle of free movement of people as member states must.”

Despite hopeful rhetoric that the border will remain intact, relations with the North may already be fraying. First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster attacked Taoiseach Enda Kenny, accusing the government in Dublin of sending representatives “around the world to talk down [Northern Ireland’s] economy and to attempt to poach our investors”. Having already rejected Kenny’s suggestion, in July, of an all-island forum on Ireland’s future after Brexit, Foster’s indignation is likely to sour relations further.

Kenny’s government faces mounting challenges, including to the leadership of the main party. While its weak Dáil makeup may encourage it to dig its heels in deep and wait for a bounce in the polls, approaching its 200th day in office, it has shown somewhat surprising signs of resilience.

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