MICHAEL WOLSEY: Do we want panto politics? On no we don’t!
SAMUEL Johnson said of a dog, trained to walk on its hind legs, that “it is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all”.
The same might be said of our Government. When Enda Kenny put together this coalition back in 2016 I doubted if it would last a year. A weakened Fine Gael, a disparate bunch of independents, relying for survival on the support of Fianna Fáil: like Johnson’s dog, this administration did not seem capable of standing on its own two feet.
Like the dog, it moves in strange ways – but it has kept the country steady and delivered four Budgets. For that, at least, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin deserve a pat on their heads.
We have now seen the last Budget under the FG-FF non-aggression pact and, although this one, like the three that went before it, is no great achievement, I have to concede that the confidence and supply agreement has worked.
I hope it’s not the end of such deals, even if the next general election does not throw up a Dáil where one is absolutely necessary.
There is a high level of consensus in Irish politics – and not just between the two big parties.
With the exception of the small groupings on the far Left, all our elected representatives are capable of working together and, indeed, they have often done so on specific constituency issues or where the national interest arises.
A lot of the argument we see across the floor in Leinster house is a phony war. We inherited this confrontational system from the British who love a bit of parliamentary theatricality, with heroes and villains, hissing and booing and a few characters in fancy dress.
It’s pantomime politics. And has it served them well? Oh no it hasn’t!
Westminster has been very entertaining for the past couple of years. But entertainment is not the purpose for which parliaments are elected and Britain’s showboating parliamentarians have failed that country badly.
The dull old Dáil has served us better, steering a steady course through the Brexit storms.
I am not sure how much credit our politicians deserve for this adult approach.
The last election left them with no choice but to hang together or head back to the polls where they might well have hanged separately. And, as Dr Johnson (the smuggest man in 18th century England) also said, the prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.
But whatever the motivation, TDs have set an example of co-operation which should not be disregarded.
There is no good reason why politicians from different parties should not sit around a table and thrash out issues before they reach the floor of the house. A bit of intelligent discussion may help improve a Bill and a little sensible tweaking may smooth its passage onto the statute books.
I am not suggesting a national government, far from it: ministers need to be held to account and parliaments work better when there is a bit of confrontation. But I would be happy to see an end to this nonsense where the government says ‘white’ and the opposition unthinkingly roars ‘no, black is better’.
Parliaments, like families, will always have their divisions. But, again like families, they function best when they can work through the differences, agree to differ and put those differences behind them.