Will the various political parties resolve their differences and form a government? More people than would normally after an election are wondering what the politicians will do with the challenge they have been set by the voters, with no party having anything like a majority.
The short answer is that the politicians will either compromise and break the impasse sharpish, or go back to the voters and get handed their political posteriors on a plate.
There’s bemusement — and amusement — at the split-vote conundrum that voters have presented to the political system, apparent once the full results of the general election were made known. There’s a voter attitude of, “well, we landed that on them, didn’t we?” The shock result — even the good one of 37 seats that Sinn Féin received — came after a bruising winter election campaign.
It was apparent from early on, even more so than usual, that every single vote was going to count. So by the time the votes were cast, everyone was utterly shattered.
Being in a state of exhaustion and shock is not the best position for a political leader when attempting to adjust to a jarring new reality, as Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had to with their parties’ returns of 35 and 38 seats, respectively.
At the same time, they are expected to be at the height of their strategic powers, as well as expected to work out how to carry their parliamentary party and their wider party membership.
But the voter amusement/bemusement will fade pretty quickly. We’ve spent enough time now discussing the result and how Sinn Féin actually “only” got 24% of the vote.
What is crystal clear is that people want fundamental change in two areas. The first is how we care for our citizens when they are vulnerable and sick and need our health services. The second is people’s inability to afford a house, in which to feel safe and not have to travel hours to and from work each day.
None of this is easily solved. But this is the bar that the voters have set. The worry is that the various elements of our political system appear to be disappearing down a rabbit hole of ego, party political strategising, and one-upmanship. This does not offer any comfort that the politicians are able for the mammoth task ahead on health and housing, not to mention climate change.
People want solutions, not partisan posturing. Observing the three main parties, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Fine Gael, you could not conclude that the spirit is willing to reach an arrangement that might effect real change.
It is not an easy task, but you need a spreadsheet to see who is talking to whom, who is being ignored in the playground, and whether Fine Gael is persisting with its isolationist, and somewhat delusional, “don’t hate me cos I’m beautiful” approach. This standoff is insupportable. It cannot persist.
At the end of the general election campaign, before the vote, no-one could say that any of those three parties impressed on either housing or health policy, in terms of setting out what would be involved and the realistic cost.
For instance, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald appeared to hope that Irish builders and bricklayers and plasterers would return from abroad, almost out of a sense of national duty, to bolster the house-building programme once Sinn Féin was in charge.
Fianna Fáil’s Martin, made a great play of how his party would pump millions of euros into the National Treatment Purchase Fund, but was hazy on the details when it came to the full implementation of the Sláintecare programme — something which, if it got the support and funding, would properly sort out our hugely dysfunctional health service.
The intractabilty of housing and health means it is simply not enough for these issues to be addressed in an eventual Programme for Government. Building more local authority housing is going to cost a lot more money.
The health system does not need more money, but does need an enormous change in mindset and political courage, in pushing through the necessary changes proposed in Sláintecare, a national strategy for healthcare. That reform programme would cost an additional €1bn per year over the next five years and a further €500m a year in the following four years.
The voters showed that they want change and signalled their distress at the housing and health situations, but they, too, need to be brought along.
The days of voters being sold a pup, in terms of political parties promising tax cuts and improved public services, must be, at least temporarily, abandoned.
That remains a hard swallow for an electorate that has signalled it wants change, but which has an overhanging addiction to risky economic policies that involve trying to have your public services cake and eat your taxes, too.
THE changes required to give us a health service that is fit for purpose require a united political front to overcome what will be massive objections from the various vocal lobbies, not least local groups.
Even if all of these obstacles are overcome, there remains the distinct possibility of a significant economic shock caused by a breakdown in the Brexit trade negotiations, or simply a broader one from a downturn in the worldwide economic picture.
I know. I know. It’s all sounding very “national government”,adding up to the wishlist of a political Pollyanna.
The prospect of the sum of all the parts coming together in a coherent manner seems as likely as US President Donald Trump giving up on lying and fake tan.
But if the politicians felt they were shocked by the result they got this time around, logic dictates that a failure to take heed of the message very forcibly delivered at the ballot boxes on February 8th would make the situation much worse the next time.
Any temptation to make that next time any time in the immediate future, in a second whirlwind general election, and in the hope of an ‘improved’ result, will just prolong the suffering for all.
Observing the three main parties, you could not conclude the spirit is willing to reach an arrangement.