Government by desperation

The demeanour of the Taoiseach in the Dáil yesterday spoke volumes more than his carefully scripted speech during which he thanked the Labour Party’s contribution to the coalition government, even though Fine Gael’s former partners voted against his nomination.

In contrast to the confident figure when first elected in 2011, Enda Kenny looked somewhat cowed and it would have been hard to tell from his speech or his features that he had just made history by becoming the first leader of Fine Gael to be made taoiseach for the second consecutive time.

While his acceptance speech was thoughtful and engaging, it was delivered without passion or energy. At times, the Taoiseach looked a beaten man. As Ruth Coppinger of the Anti-Austerity Alliance put it, “I’ve never seen an incoming Taoiseach look so unhappy.”

Perhaps that is because he has little to be happy about. Mr Kenny remains deeply unpopular nationwide and the fact remains that 70% of the Irish electorate did not want him as Taoiseach. Both as government leader and as head of Fine Gael, he is much diminished.

His stature is decidedly weakened even within the ranks of his own party and he will need all his political cunning and courage to remain head of government for the next few months, let alone the lifetime of the 32nd Dáil.

But of even greater concern is how this new government is going to work. Katharine Zappone has been appointed minister at the department of children and youth affairs. Shane Ross is the new minister for transport, something that is likely to send shivers down the collective spine of striking Luas workers.

However, at least Mr Ross will now be inside the tent rather than outside it which, given the doctrine of shared cabinet responsibility, will limit his ability to make waves. Likewise, the other strident voices among independents who will now have a role in government.

Personalities aside, the last-minute deal cobbled together between Fine Gael and independent TDs does not augur well for our political future and points to government by desperation rather than dedication.

If the tortuous process of the negotiations with independent TDs is anything to go by, the business of the Dáil is going to be slower, more expensive and far more time consuming. The days of the guillotine in which the Government could railroad through legislation with little or no debate is long gone and that is a good thing. But the problem is that it is likely to be replaced by a convoluted arrangement whereby any number of TDs will get to have their say and that is not necessarily a good thing.

In the Dáil yesterday, speeches on the nomination of Enda Kenny for Taoiseach were made by the leaders of nine political parties and groupings while negotiations were still going on outside, almost failing on the issue of turfcutting rights.

As Star Trek’s Mr Spock might have said to Captain Kirk on board the Starship Enterprise, “this is democracy, Jim, but not as we know it.”

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