The failure to elect a Taoiseach in the Dáil yesterday has turned a bizarre situation into a farce.
In last February’s General Election the Irish people did not elect a Caretaker Taoiseach. Neither did they choose Acting Ministers. Yet, for the past 40 days and 40 nights since then that is what we have been presented with as a result of the current political stalemate.
In this latter-day interregnum, Enda Kenny is like the emperor with no clothes – all style and no substance. He reigns but doesn’t rule because he has no political mandate to continue in office and the same goes for his cabinet ministers.
One may well ask if any of this matters. After all, the world is still turning; businesses are still operating and the general population is still going about its business.
But the fact is that it matters hugely for all our sakes for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the problems in housing, health, education and industrial relations are not going to go away unless they are tackled and it is all but impossible for a government without a mandate to do that in any effective way.
The scandal of patients waiting for hours – or even days – on hospital trolleys is now worse than ever and it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is primarily because the focus of politicians has been shifted from doing their jobs to keeping their jobs.
A consultant in emergency medicine at Sligo University Hospital yesterday spoke about the crisis. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fergal Hickey described how ambulances queued up to bring patients into the department on Tuesday and patients were put on trolleys in corridors.
Mr Hickey said there had been a brief improvement while there was political focus on the crisis but the situation has deteriorated now that there is no effective government in place.
The facts speak for themselves. The Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation has revealed that almost 10,000 patients spent time on trolleys in March waiting for admission to a hospital bed. This represents a five per cent increase on the same period last year.
It is the same with the housing crisis. There are thousands of families in cramped and overcrowded conditions and hundreds more with no homes at all. Only a functioning government can allocate funds to tackle this.
Likewise industrial relations. The Luas strike in Dublin is dragging on with no signs of it being resolved. Whatever about the merits of the drivers’ demands, it is extraordinary that the head of the operator Transdev should have come from the UK to Dublin without meeting worker representatives. A functioning Employment or Transport Minister would have had the political clout to insist on it.
As well as that, a caretaker government is not able to make decisions on major issues like budgets, the national debt, foreign policy and political reform.
The responsibility for all of this does not lie solely with Fine Gael. Every member elected to the Dáil in February has an obligation to ensure that a government is formed.
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