JIM POWER: Leo Varadkar will have to be at his best as he refocuses on real issues like Brexit

Irish politics has been in a state of flux since the unusual general election of February 2016, writes Jim Power.

The support of independents and the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that has kept the Government alive has been very hard to take for the traditionalists, but more fundamentally, it has not exactly created an environment conducive to strong, decisive and brave policy making.

Its most memorable moment, to date, was the attempt by three independents to visit North Korea and restore peace and stability to the world.

The whole arrangement has never been characterised by stability but over the past week, it was taken to a whole new level that almost resulted in the spectre of visits from politicians in the run up to Christmas. I was particularly looking forward to meeting the Fianna Fáil candidate on my doorstep to share my Christmas spirit.

In the event, an election has been avoided and we can now breathe easily for another few weeks at least.

The chances are it can only be for a few weeks as any trust that existed between the two main parties is likely to have been seriously eroded, or at least that is what logic would suggest.

It was fascinating to see some members of our political classes get so exercised about a series of emails and what a minister did or did not know. If only the same passion could be directed at the really serious issues facing us as a society.

Health and housing should be the issues exercising the political classes, rather than the rubbish we have been subjected to over the past week. The more one hears about what we describe as a health service, the more depressing it becomes. In recent weeks, it took RTÉ journalists to uncover a situation in the health service that apparently was a very well known secret for some years.

To an outsider, it seems extraordinary that such behaviour was known about and tolerated, but it reveals one of the biggest obstacles to any meaningful reform of the manner in which health services are delivered; namely strong and powerful vested interest groups who are more intent on preserving their own fiefdoms rather than doing what they are paid to do.

It seems that junior doctors, nurses and patients are the three components of the health service that demand most sympathy.

The housing situation is the other big emotive issue. The crisis is actually getting worse rather than better. The problems of spiralling rents, rapidly-rising house prices, and a basic inability to house anybody that wants to be housed are momentous problems facing Irish society and the economy.

Looking at the political complexion of the country as we move towards 2018, one would not be filled with confidence that anything will change.

However, the two small blessings from the avoidance of an election is the fact that meaningless political bickering and childish behaviour will not destroy our seasonal festivities, and at least we have a government in place as we move towards a crucial juncture in the Brexit negotiations.

Ireland will have to adjust to and cope with whatever the currency markets throw at it, and with whatever trading relationship the UK will have with the EU once exit happens. The most immediate issue concerns the border with the North.

The political ramifications could be potentially huge and could — in certain circumstances — threaten to derail the fragile peace process.

For dairy companies with operations on both sides of the border the logistical implications are potentially horrendous. Likewise, for the road haulage industry.

Bringing a truckload of fish from Donegal to France or Spain could entail four border crossings, with massive time delays and administrative red tape.

The Taoiseach will have to be at his brilliant best over the coming months to guide this process in Ireland’s interests and not in the interests of the UK or the EU.

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