Irish Examiner View: Crisis means politics must come second

It is 70 days since our election but a new government is almost as remote as Neptune.
Irish Examiner View: Crisis means politics must come second
Our February election now seems like a lifetime ago

It is 70 days since our election but a new government is almost as remote as Neptune.

That, of course, is an exaggeration as Neptune is an incomprehensible 4.5942 billion km from this ever-more stressed planet.

That vast distance makes the unconsummated liaison between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seem altogether plausible, almost a thing of nothing despite their century of unrelenting acrimony.

If February’s fragmented result made it very difficult to establish a government the arrival of the pandemic, and its anticipated economic legacy, made it as difficult as the idea of a weekend break on Neptune.

Nevertheless, one must eventually be formed.

Preferably one with the authenticity, stability, vision and, almost most of all, the honesty and openness that will be essential when the time comes to try to restore normality — hopefully a new, chastened but better normal.

The blueprint proposed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil does not tick those boxes. How could it?

If it was impossible to imagine more than 40 people a day dying from a pandemic 70 days ago it is more difficult to predict the lie of the land in 70 days’ time.

How can a realistic, deliverable programme for government be proposed as a pandemic rages?

The priority areas are, as they have been for many years, all too obvious.

However, the source of resources needed to resolve them in a post-coronavirus world is a mystery unless we borrow on a grand scale.

Social protection obligations, reduced tax revenues, ongoing bank-bailout debt obligations and EU supervision of spending, will limit that option.

It is reasonable to ask too how, or why, those issues might be resolved in the straitened world ahead when they went unresolved during the years of relative abundance.

Have FG and FF, secretly, had a Pauline conversion and embraced the big-state ideology they have rejected for generations?

That seems as unlikely as a weekend break on Neptune.

Though unavoidable the vagueness may be designed to try to seduce smaller Dáil parties rather than a realistic proposal for government.

It is alive with aspiration but short on how-to detail. It is, as they might say in Texas, all hat but no cattle.

Unsurprisingly, the Social Democrats have asked for costings.

If that request signals of a new openness to joining government, despite the very obvious risks, it is to be welcomed.

The SDs, as well as Labour, the Greens and others too, may have good political reasons to cast a cold eye on coalition but today’s crisis turns that strategy into an indulgence — especially as society has accepted tremendous impositions in the name of the common good.

Political parties must be at least equally accepting of our changed circumstances.

That onus does not fall exclusively on the smaller parties.

The larger parties must also bend, they cannot adopt the old, patronising temporary-little-arrangement attitude.

It is not too hard to imagine old-school politicians sneering at these calls for cooperation, mutual respect and the prioritisation of possibility.

Despite that this seems a Rubicon moment when those who can help rebuild Ireland must put their best foot forward.

They can do that in the knowledge that those who avoid that responsibility are already living on borrowed time.

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