As the lengthy Dáil summer gives way to a new session that is largely a preamble to the next budget on December 7th, there are ominous signs of unease from a government whose electors are gripped by a palpable fear and loathing of what havoc the electorate are going to wreak upon them when finally given the opportunity.
The arithmetic of the current Dáil Éireann sees the government supported by 70 FF, 6 Greens and a ramshackle coalition of 8 ‘independents’ largely drawn from the wider FF gene pool (as well as ex-FG Michael Lowry). Their 84 votes plus the deciding vote of the Ceann Comhairle are enough to retain a majority of the 166 seats, although Mattie McGrath’s commitment is wavering. How far the Greens are from the next Dan Boyle tweet is always unclear but that nuclear threat seems to have been averted by the fear of mutually assured destruction at the polls.
On the opposition side are 51 FG, 20 Lab, 4 SF and 3 Independents that now include Noel Grealish who recently withdrew his support for the government. A mere 78 opposition TDs is insufficient to bring down the coalition. But there are also 3 Dáil vacancies that seem unlikely to be filled by supporters of a government that has been evading the necessary by-elections as long as is constitutionally possible (i.e. forever). The removal of goodwill from the oppposition may finally force this particular issue.
There are also open threats of rebellion from within the wider governing coalition as the narrowing majority is amplifying the role individual TDs are playing in keeping the government in power. As Tipp O’Neill’s father told him – all politics is local. Those that might believe that public dissent may give them some chances of re-election are largely demurring over issues around healthcare at constituency level rather than over any issue of national importance.
Other unexpected threats may also materialise: Willie O’Dea, who basically resigned over a breach of the Electoral Abuses Act, may still be charged under the same Act and thus de-barred from the Oireachtas for five years. Bizarrely, since settling his court case was an effective admission of this, the failure to prosecute looks purely political. A prosecution seems increasingly unlikely with the passage of time, though.
So, the not unlikely scenarios of a withdrawl of Mattie McGrath’s support and pre-Christmas by-elections could bring the government’s majority to a mere 183-182, solely relying on those Independents who traditionally require their local parish pump to be heavily primed (when such funds are now unavailable). So oddly, a government whose true legacy will become known when the final multi-multi-billion cost of Anglo Irish Bank is revealed, will most likely fall over a failure to spend a few million on some small regional hospital.
The end, as with the politics, will be local. Ultimately, is this an argument for or against electing independents?