The current political impasse offers us an opportunity to try a fresh new partnership approach to doing politics, writes Denis Naughten

AFTER 50 hours of talks with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, it is clear that a new government — if formed — will be a watershed government.

It either involve both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which will bring an end to civil war politics, or it will see the establishment of a minority government which, because of its numbers, will be the very first consensus government.

Either format will change the political landscape in Ireland for the better, and will bring about a new type of politics — a political system for the 21st century, instead of the present one which was designed for the 18th century.

At this stage in our discussions, we are trying to construct a political partnership agreement, a blueprint for what this new government would do over its term of office.

This is based on the social partnership agreement model which sidelined the industrial relations turmoil of the 1980s, and brought about real economic growth.

Today, my colleagues Michael Collins TD, Michael Harty TD, Noel Grealish TD, Matty McGrath TD, and I believe that we need a similar structure to bring about a political partnership agreement across a broad range of TDs in Dáil Éireann who are willing to step up to the plate of government.

Such an agreement must have inputs from the political parties — Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, Labour and a number of Independents — who are willing to assist in putting a government together.

We view a political partnership agreement as a programme for government that would be agreed between a coalition of the constructive TDs in Dáil Éireann with clear proposals to address the serious issues of the housing crisis, rural and provincial decimation, health service chaos, and climate change.

From our engagement with the main political parties, there seems to be momentum building behind the formation of a minority consensus government which will be forced to listen to the Dáil and which will have to construct a majority in parliament on a case-by-case basis for every measure it would like to implement.

For the first time in Irish history, we could have a political system that works like it was designed to — that is, a government that will propose and a Dáil that will dispose.

In plain English, this means the government of the day will only be able to table a plan of what it wishes to do, but it will not be able to implement this plan without the consent of a majority of members of Dáil Éireann, including those on both the government and opposition sides.

It will force individual TDs and parties to set aside what is in their interest and instead to act in a responsible manner by taking the actions which are in the best interest of the State and its people. Dáil Éireann will, I believe, at long last become a problem-solving chamber.

TDs will be provided with all of the relevant information and policy options and they will then have to decide on what approach to take.

Of course this is going to rock the foundations of the civil service, because no longer will it be in the position of only having to convince one person of the merits of a plan, namely the minister of the day.

Instead, it will have to be able to convince a majority of the members of the relevant parliamentary committee.

These committees will have at their head a chairperson with real powers who will manage a committee with real decision-making capacity. And of course if this applies to the civil service, it will also apply to lobbyists who will have to build a coalition of support based on real facts, and not just getting the ear of a sympathetic Minister.

This is all a gamble, we may fall back to the same party political Punch and Judy show that we have seen during the first two sittings of the 32nd Dáil but it may just work and, if it does, then Punch and Judy are set for retirement and Dáil Éireann is set to become an institution that people look to and not turn away from, as they do at the moment.

For this to happen, we have to lay down new ground rules, new ways of doing business in Dáil Éireann, and in Government Buildings.

Yes, this will take time, and the public will have to be patient, but I sincerely hope that last week’s phone calls between Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin are the first steps towards a watershed government of the people and for the people.

Denis Naughten is TD for Roscommon-Galway

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