WHEN is a government not in government? When it is so convulsed by obfuscation and indecision that it fails to function to any reasonable degree.
The Irish Government is currently offering a masterclass in ineffectiveness, brought about by the fallout from the Apple tax ruling by the European Commission.
When the current administration was put in place after an indecisive general election result last February, there was much talk about the so-called new politics and how this would help transform Irish society and force decision makers to be more transparent and more accountable.
Speaking in the wake of that result and before the current administration was formed, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “The complex decision delivered by the people requires a different kind of answer, a different kind of response. A big bold response.”
Spoken last April, those words appeared to come from someone who not only understood the problem but also the solution. It followed months of attempts to put some form of government in place.
What was finally agreed upon seemed reasonable: A Fine Gael-led minority government, with tacit support from Fianna Fáil in opposition. An agreement that included Independents at Cabinet and in junior ministerial roles was expected to last three to four budgets.
It has hardly lasted three to four months. The Apple ruling has exposed what could turn out to be a fatal fault-line in the current arrangement.
While the Cabinet yesterday finally agreed to appeal the EU Commission ruling that Ireland had supplied illegal state aid worth €13bn to Apple, it was clear that there was less than full support for that positon from Independent members of government.
Independent Alliance ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath and independent Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had initially baulked at backing an appeal but relented at the last minute. At one stage, Independent Alliance Junior Minister John Halligan threatened to resign but, like his colleagues, finally agreed to follow the Fine Gael position.
All of these shenanegans may seem like nothing more than the cut and thrust of party politics but the danger is that if it takes the Cabinet this long to make a single – albeit important – decision, it does not augur well for its ability to introduce a Budget, which involves a multiplicity of decisions.
When the current FG minority administration was put in place last April there were other options, namely a Fianna Fáil led government, an FF-FG coalition or another election. The latter two were regarded as unthinkable and, therefore discarded.
But considering the extent to which the Taoiseach and his party are spancelled by over-reaching independent Cabinet members, perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable.
In the absence of true political leadership, what we have at the moment is a circus, not a government.
Even a circus needs a ringmaster.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved