Jim Power: Tread carefully is my advice to next coalition

Jim Power: Tread carefully is my advice to next coalition
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after being elected at the RDS Count centre today. Pic: PA

As we begin the potentially torturous process of trying to cobble a government together for an electorate that clearly voted for change but really doesn’t appear to know what that change should look like, the stakes are incredibly high.

It is quite clear that if the next government is to be deemed a success, then it will have to deliver a lot more houses and deliver a health service of much higher quality than we have at the moment.

Personally, I am glad to see the end of the "confidence and supply" debacle or "new politics", as it came to be known, that has been in place since 2016.

The two parties in that arrangement were constantly sniping at each other and there was always a sense that if the party in power was too successful in delivering for the country, it would not be in the best interests of the party keeping the arrangement in place.

On top of that, we had a group of independents who were more interested in very parochial issues than the national good. 

Election 2020 Results Summary

Seats by party

  • Party
  • % 1st Pref
  • Seats
  • FF 22.18% 38
  • SF 24.53% 37
  • FG 20.86% 35
  • IO 15.39% 21
  • GP 7.13% 12
  • LAB 4.38% 6
  • SD 2.90% 6
  • SPBP 2.63% 5
160 of 160 seats filled
39 of 39 constituencies complete

It was not exactly a recipe for strong government and delivery for the people and I think this is borne out by the policymaking record of the outgoing government and the reaction of the electorate last weekend.

Now the people have spoken and whoever forms the next government will have to listen to that electorate. For all of the young people who voted for Sinn Féin, the legacy of that party was of little interest.

The reality is that they really only desired to aspire to do what past generations of young people always wanted to aspire to, namely own a house in a location of their choice and at a price that would not destroy their ability to live a proper life.

Not too much to ask for, one might have thought, but the system has failed to deliver as quickly as the impatient electorate desired and the rest is history.

For the housing minister, it is somewhat ironic that a few days after his party was roundly rejected at the ballot box, housing data from the CSO show that supply is steadily coming back.

In the final quarter of last year, 6,450 new dwellings were delivered, which is 18.5% higher than a year earlier. For 2019 as a whole, 21,241 new dwellings were delivered, which is 18.3% higher than 2018, which is nearly five times higher than 2013.

We are still clearly not building enough houses, but it is steadily moving in the right direction and the incoming government will obviously be able to take credit for this improvement.

Whatever government is formed, if indeed that proves possible, one hopes that the improving trend in the housing market will be maintained and that it will not be thrown off course by taxation measures or rent freezes that will not work.

Health is obviously the other key priority.

The strong likelihood is that a lot more money will be thrown at the service over the coming years, but a much less strong likelihood is that this will deliver a commensurate improvement in what the patient gets.

The danger is that simply throwing more and more money into a system that is clearly broken and inefficient will just exacerbate and reinforce the inefficiencies. 

The health system needs to be fundamentally reformed and the bureaucratic and other inefficiencies in the system will have to be addressed.

However, in the face of a sector where numerous strong vested interest groups hold sway, this will not be easy and will require very strong government.

There is now a long list of health ministers who have failed, but we all have to hope that the next one succeeds. I would not hold my breath.

Overlying all of these challenges is the fact that there are still many dark clouds on the external horizon. 

The coronavirus is gathering momentum and is starting to pose a real threat to the global economy.

Closer to home, I think we have to face up to the fact that the UK prime minister will not seek an extension to the Brexit transition mechanism and will exit this mechanism come what may on December 31.

Whatever happens, this will cause a significant deterioration in the ability of Ireland to trade with the UK. 

We need to tread very carefully through these dangerous waters.

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