“What a load of rubbish”: The week in Irish politics

“What a load of rubbish!” – This is a common refrain from many a voter when listening to politicians rattle on. This week though, there was no denying that their assessment was on the money, literally. Talk of waste charges dominated the political dialogue in and around Dáil Éireann in recent days. Talks of increased charges for an estimated 50% of people had echoes of the water charges fiasco. The usual suspects were out early calling for bin collection charges to be scrapped. Fianna Fáil wanted a delay and the appointment of a regulator. Minister Denis Naughten of the Independent Alliance was then made look a solitary character when Fine Gael agreed with Fianna Fáil to hold off on charges and consider the idea of a regulatory body for waste. Fianna Fáil will claim a victory of sorts on this, led in the charge by Clare TD Timmy Dooley. From Fine Gael’s point of view, putting the issue off for up to 15 months may well be shrewd politics. At that stage we may well have had a general election and this will become someone else’s problem . The last thing the Government needs is another Irish Water.


Eamon Ryan and the Green party were not to be found wanting on what is a key policy area for them. Ryan brought this rubbish to the floor of the Dáil; namely a bag of unrecyclable waste. To be fair to him and others like Claire Daly, their point about companies using too much packaging and unrecyclable packaging is perhaps one of the most valid. If the Governing parties really wish to reduce waste, this is an area they simply must address.


Away from the major policy issues catching headlines, the Jobstown trial finally reached its verdict with the acquittal of all 6 charged. Whereas some say it as a victory for justice and others may have been dismayed at the result, it does still leave the question; what constitutes acceptable protest? Peaceful protest is a constitutionally protected right and should always remain so, but at what point does one’s right to protest and another’s right to go about their day cross? This is a question that still requires a definitive answer. It’s safe to say that the scenes in Jobstown turned ugly, quickly for a variety of reasons. The violent and misogynistic language used by a minority were well out of line. We must ask ourselves; is this behaviour any member of society, be they a politician or not, should have to face? No answers this week unfortunately.


Perhaps the biggest story of the week though is still emerging in the 6 counties. A breakdown of talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP has left the Northern Institutions in limbo with both Dublin and London, for now, appearing to not want to directly influence the process. While playing their part in facilitating talks, they have both appeared to leave the work to the DUP and Sinn Féin themselves. True to form, at the breakdown, with each blaming the other, both parties returned to their default position. Sinn Féin blamed the UK Government for hindering any deal because of their deal in Westminster with the DUP. For their part, the DUP accused the Dublin Government of interfering in matters for the Assembly in calling for the North to legalise same-sex marriage. This leaves us the same old scenario with the two parties playing to their base and abdicating responsibility to come to a deal between them to others, much to the dismay and frustration of everyone else.


With more and more talk of both the UUP and the SDLP being in terminal decline, it leaves the big two free to play this out for as long as they so wish. For once, however, it does look like neither Government are going to bail them out with an easy resolution. London especially, given the £1 billion deal they agreed to just last week, are in no position to add any more sweeteners to facilitate a SF-DUP deal. It appears that the voters of Northern Ireland have once again been badly let down by their politicians for whom self-interest would appear to be the biggest block to getting Stormont working again. It’s no wonder that parties like Fianna Fáil and Labour (both the UK and Irish version) amongst others are actively pursuing the idea of running candidates in the North. There has never been a bigger gap in the market coupled with voter frustration.


Finally, from unending arguments to one of the rarest things in Irish politics; consensus. In Leinster House, a Fine Gael private members motion from Tony McLouhglin of Sligo received the support of all parties in both houses as Ireland became one of a small number of countries in the world to ban fracking. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing as it’s more formally known, is the process of cracking bedrock to extract shale or other natural gases for fuel. The practice has been widely criticized for pollution and as being unsightly. The cynical minded might say that by passing this motion through the Oireachtas, it becomes one of the few times in history that politicians got together to prevent the release of hot air………I mean gas! They should, nevertheless, be commended for this. Perhaps a view of ‘new politics’ when it does work? Time will tell.

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