Irish Examiner view: A year defined by Covid-19 and Brexit

It is reassuring that the most important political event of 2020 will not materialise until 2021.
Irish Examiner view: A year defined by Covid-19 and Brexit

Over the next four years, the Biden administration must lead the kind of achievement that denies a Trump II a foothold in the 2024 elections.

It is reassuring that the most important political event of 2020 will not materialise until 2021. On Wednesday, January 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the US. His inauguration will bring the worst presidency in America’s history to an end. Though a blessing, this is a double-edged sword.

Over the next four years, the Biden administration must lead the kind of achievement that denies a Trump II a foothold in the 2024 elections. This, like nearly everything in politics, is easier said than done, especially as the Mitch McConnell-led Republicans will do all they can to stonewall the Democratic presidency. Biden’s chance to renew is wonderful, even if it is clouded by the very real possibility of failure.

That same dichotomy, that same dammed-if-you-do, dammed-if-you-don’t dilemma, will shape coming cabinet decisions on how efforts to fight Covid-19 might be intensified. That we have mirrored moves by Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands by banning passenger flights from Britain, following the discovery of a fast-spreading Covid-19 mutation in southern England, signals that further drastic decisions may be necessary.

And the worrying rise in figures over the past few days could force the Government’s hand about fast-forwarding further restrictions. Yesterday evening, the Department of Health reported 764 new cases of the virus and four further deaths, prompting a plea from chief medical officer Tony Holohan for people to stay at home and avoid restaurants and pubs ahead during the peak of the festive season.

That catastrophe, and its hydra-headed twin Brexit, set the context for any assessment of Irish politics in 2020. Nevertheless, a momentous milestone was passed after the February election when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, both greatly reduced by their conservatism in the face of escalating social problems, came together to exclude Sinn Féin from government. Since then, poll after poll has suggested that may prove a Pyrrhic victory as Sinn Féin will, sooner or later, lead a government. Time, such as Biden’s four years in the White House, will tell.

In a busy year domestically — two ministers left cabinet, one party got a new leader as the three-party coalition limped from one controversy to another at a time when leadership and singularity of purpose was most needed.

Away from Leinster House, the Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous decision by the seven-judge court, that the National Mitigation Plan was unlawful and should be quashed. In adopting the plan, the Government had failed to comply with the requirements of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. The plan, a much-harrumphed swizz, was the bedrock of official Ireland’s response to climate collapse and was shown to be inadequate. It reflected our half-hearted efforts on the challenge of our age.

Politicians must, almost on a daily basis, deal with situations beyond their control yet how they respond defines them. Those two episodes and many more show that, similar to Joe Biden, the potential of improvement is immense.

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