Real business of running country left in limbo

It was a second day of locked doors and sealed lips as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continued talks.

Real business of running country left in limbo

Mutterings that the contentious issue of Irish Water was due to be discussed leaked out from the Sycamore Room yesterday and if the Civil War rivals can come to agreement on that, anything is possible.

The negotiators may not have got around to the water issue, but one thing that certainly was on the agenda was the nuts and bolts of forming a minority government.

Both parties exchanged position papers on the parameters and structures around supporting a minority government before the negotiating teams agreed to meet again today.

While talks between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael may now have moved on from the 10-minute leaders huff of last week and into the earnest stage of deliberations, the workings of actual government have ground to a halt.

Files are now stacking up and gathering dust on ministerial desks in every department as decisions are left unmade by the caretaker ministers awaiting ejection from their padded leather seats.

While the homeless crisis and spiraling problems in the health sector have been well flagged, other issues are now also emerging, which cannot be addressed without a government in place.

Although the country has been ticking along now for 46 days without a government in situ, what started off as minor issues are beginning to fester under the surface like massive untreated boils.

Yesterday one of those blisters burst the surface when frustrated gardaí agreed to mount a campaign of industrial action over pay and lined up to march in uniform to Leinster House, risking a prison term if they do so.

The head of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) John Jacob said he would be willing to be jailed for taking part in pickets if no progress on pay is made before June.

At the AGSI’s conference yesterday, Mr Jacob told fellow members of the force: “I have a family holiday booked for the end of June, and right now, unless there’s progress on pay discussion [with the AGSI], I don’t know if I’ll be going on that holiday with my family or going to prison for causing disaffection.

“But, colleagues, I’m prepared to do that.”

And the anger any new government must address does not stop there. Teachers who have rejected the new Junior Cycle reforms will have to be consulted before returning to school in September, leaving the new education minister — whoever he or she may be — with a long summer of negotiations.

As well as dealing with unruly teachers, any new Education Minister will also have a report on third-level education as a welcome note on their desk, requiring serious decisions to be made.

The long anticipated Cassells report was delivered to acting Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan last month. She may have taken a peek inside the covers but certainly won’t be making any decisions before she and her fellow Labour TDs jump over to the opposition benches.

In the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance memos and warnings on Britons exit from Europe are sure to be blocking pigeon holes and postboxes.

With Britons going to the polls in June, Ireland will have to formulate and maintain a firm stance on Brexit which could have major repercussions for this country.

Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund warned that the planned referendum has already created uncertainty for investors and could inflict “severe” economic damage on Europe if it is passed.

It is true that, unlike the permanent civil servants, ministers come and go and make little impact on their departments.

But ministers are also the ones holding the rubber stamps.

While this week’s progress between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is to be welcomed, there will be a mountain of work for any new administration to tackle once it enters power.

The sooner talks conclude successfully the better so government can get on with the business of governing.

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