Dáil legislation: ‘New politics' is dead — try real politics

Is it too much to expect that the legislators we elect to the Dáil and Seanad do what they are paid to do, ie legislate?

As our report today reveals, fewer than half the Cabinet members have put through legislation since the Government’s formation a year ago.

Harking back to the election campaign of last year, voters were assured we were entering a phase of ‘new politics’ with promises that the old Civil War divisions would finally be consigned to the dustbin of history and that sane, sensible, mature, and modern politics would prevail.

So, as the Monty Python team might put it: “What has new politics ever done for us?” Not a lot, except to usher in an era of political paralysis with protest politics to the fore in the form of street demonstrations against everything from water charges to the eight amendment to ownership of the National Maternity Hospital.

Many of those protests have been led by elected politicians while the Dáil chamber is regularly all but empty. Indeed, on July 8 last year, the start of Dáil proceedings was delayed for 40 minutes.

There was meant to be a debate on the Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Bill but the required quorum of 20 TDs was not present. Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl described the situation as “a pretty unprecedented event”.

That is not the only unprecedented event in politics we have faced. Time was that when the government of the day lost a Dáil vote, the Taoiseach would express horror or outrage and call a general election to seek a fresh mandate.

In the past year alone, the Government has suffered more than a dozen defeats on Dáil votes. It has also lost votes in the Seanad.

Some may argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that it is an example of parliament acting as it should, with Independents and backbenchers able to exert real influence.

During last year’s campaign we were assured that the Dáil would regain pre-eminence and hold the executive to account. However, stripping the Government of any real authority is not good for either the executive or the Oireachtas.

More than 14 months on from the general election, we have a Government that is struggling to govern and a legislature that is struggling to legislate.

Despite backbenchers showing a greater willingness to flex their muscles, not a single piece of opposition legislation by way of private member’s motions has been passed, resulting in a backlog of 140 pieces of legislation meandering their way through parliament.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin blames what he describes as the ‘internal angst’ within Fine Gael for the ‘do-nothing’ Dáil but that is only half the story. The confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael benefits Fianna Fáil the most, allowing it to exercise power without responsibility.

Perhaps both parties should think the unthinkable and form a full and proper alliance. That would allow a healthier, more natural, more democratic left-right politics to emerge.

Not old politics or new politics but real politics.

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