Irish Examiner View: A daunting to-do list for government

Irish Examiner View: A daunting to-do list for government
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have embraced a new reality, can Sinn Féin? Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Government formation has moved a step closer. The leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens this weekend reached an agreement on most of the primary objectives for the next government though forces far beyond the control of Leinster House are the primary authors of that agenda.

Each party will ask its footsoldiers to endorse the deal though it is hard to imagine that any party executive would offer its members a package that, at the very least, did not look better than any of the immediately available alternatives.

It has, even if for exceptional reasons, taken four months to reach this point which suggests an enduring cultural clunkiness with the inevitability of coalition, certainly the idea of a coalition of equals.

This dripping-slow pace reflects the fragmentation that will define our politics for the foreseeable future - especially as it is as certain as anything can be certain in politics that no party will win 81 seats in any election any time soon.

Though it is natural to accentuate the positives maybe a colder recognition of today's realpolitik might be more conducive to successful outcomes. It might be just a tad sceptical to describe the agreement, if it is endorsed, as an agreed truce rather than a roadmap to those sunny uplands so enthusiastically invoked by campaigning politicians but the negative side of that argument is, unfortunately, far easier to make.

It does not require the imagination of a John B Keane to imagine that Bull McCabe's of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil might be unable to contain their emotions at critical moments. 

What metric might be used to describe the chasm between, say, Fine Gael's strong, conservative farmer supporters and the Greens' largely urban, progressive voters?

Would the Greens allow another €50m no-strings-attached bailout for the beef sector to sustain the unsustainable? How might the Greens view Fianna Fáil's hand-in-glove relationship with gung-ho developers and too-big-to-fail banks?

How will Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael sustain their novel collegiality when, during the lifetime of the next government, the centenary of the Ballyseedy atrocity will be marked in March, 2023?

That relationship will be challenged anew as both parties will be relentlessly goaded by Sinn Féin and its legions of social media disrupters.

Ironically, should a government come from current talks, then Sinn Féin will face the greatest challenge of all. Can they, and especially their supporters, make a positive contribution or will they be happy to remain implacably disengaged? Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have embraced a new reality, can Sinn Féin?

Might today's needs or tomorrow's possibilities be enough to sustain unity? Hopefully.

To achieve this political and communication skills of the highest order will be needed. So too will a news degree of empathy with the needs of others, shouting down is no longer an option.

The challenges facing the next government, no matter who it is, are so very great that it is sobering even to list them. Containing the pandemic, finding a vaccine, economic and social recovery, housing, health, immigration, tax policies and pension security, legal system reform, the list is almost endless.

However, as science underlines time and time again,  climate change is by far the most pressing issue, all else flows from that. In 25 or 50 years time it is the prism through which our next government will be judged. Let us hope that judgement will be a positive one.

   

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