Last week An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny declared silly season is over. In the meantime Galway east Labour TD and Chairman of the Labour Party, Colm Keaveney, started playing political games with the coalition. Claiming the Labour Party is preparing for a snap general election. While a snap general election is not entirely implausible it is certainly unlikely. Although one could be forgiven for thinking that Keaveney is just trolling the Government.
Most politicans would have a certain sympathy for Colm Keaveney’s plight and his aching to be heard. He is one of 13 TD’S predicated by the Irish Times to lose their seats at the next general election due to boundary changes recommended by the Constituency Commission. He has to be seen and heard if he wants to keep his seat. The more outspoken his utterances the more likely he will be heard. The Labour TD however is in danger of becoming this coalition’s Paul Gogarty who’s outspoken utterances made the Green Party TD the subject of much ridicule and mirth amongst the hacks and politicans in Leinster House. Beware the TD who cried wolf.
So the (political) games have begun. There are a number of coalition splitting issues looming on the horizon for this government. In recent weeks we have seen the political hackles raised concerning abortion, the Croke park deal and the budget.
A few weeks ago up to 60 TD’s and senators met in a private club in Dublin with members of One Day More, a new pro-life group that is demanding legal protection for unborn children with disability or foetal abnormality.
The One Day More briefing was organised by Senator Rónán Mullen. It was co-hosted by deputies Regina Doherty of Fine Gael, Arthur Spring of Labour, Senator Darragh O’Brien of Fianna Fáil and Independent Senator Mary Ann O’Brien founder of Lilly O’Brien’s chocolates and the Jack and Jill foundation.
Abortion is a no win political issue on the doorsteps. It wont win a politician votes, but a politican will certainly lose votes. Of course the X-case should be legislated for but it is a divisive issue in all parties. It is not as clear-cut as pro abortion or anti-abortion parties. There is sizable rump of Labour TD’s who will vote against any abortion legislation that may come before the Oireachtas. Led by the wily Arthur Spring this anti-abortion group has the potential to cause serious long-term damage within the Labour party.
Sure it wouldn’t be the Labour Party if there wasn’t talk of a split.
The majority within the Fine Gael parliamentary party are of course anti-abortion. As are members of Fianna Fáil. Which would mean a massive revolt against any legislation introduced. Hence the flouting of the idea of a free vote of “conscious”. Meaning the party whip will not be imposed and TDs can vote as they please. That would be the safest political way to avoid the government falling. Those that have argued for the abolishing the whip system will be in for a rude awakening that day.
The abolishing of the Seanad is another major focal point of division within the Government parties. Fine Gael have committed to holding a referendum on its abolishment. But turkeys don’t vote for christmas and Labour Senators are in full-blown revolt over the proposal. The lefties have gone all righteous on the sanctity of democracy.
These Labour Senators, have shown they need little or no encouragement in portraying themselves as protectors of democracy, saviors of the Republic and generally giving the impression the country would cease to function without them. Some people will talk till they are blue in the face. Irish Senators will talk till they are green white and gold in the face. Seanad Éireann is a place where the air is full of speeches and vice versa.
Abolishing of the Seanad will be put on the long finger for now. But Labour know if they are seen to try to block any referendum on its future, they will be severely punished by an electorate who want political reform.
The Croke Park deal is the spawn of Fianna Fáil. But the Labour Party defend it like they gave birth to it themselves. No surprise there, they rely heavily on the trade unions for political support. Mixed signals have been coming from Fine Gael in recent weeks, with some TD’s and ministers saying the deal has to be revisited, while Enda Kenny has said it will run it course till 2014.
It should be torn up and burned. That does not mean those poorly paid public servants should be punished. It means the Leitrim County manager should not get paid €132,000 per annum or the head of student experience in UCC should not get €113,000-€145,000. There are 110 senior managers in the HSE earning more than €100,000 a year. This excludes medical professionals. But the Croke Park deal has become more precious than a holy relic.
Labour have to defend the Croke Park deal but at what price ? The Labour Party know they cannot go to the electorate defending the Croke park deal. You can’t justify paying excessive salaries while cutting services and ask the electorate to back you.
The Budget on the other hand….. Ministers will be flying so many kites in the upcoming weeks some may get electrocuted. The sacred cows of social welfare and health will be under the microscope. A massive 40% of our budget goes social welfare. The joke doing the rounds is the HSE no longer stands for the Health Service Executive it now stands for Has Squandered Euros.
The grand troika of Labour, Howlin, Gilmore and Ho Chi Quinn have left Joan with a fine mess trying to clean up the Department of Social welfare. Any cuts made there and Joan is going to be the Labour Minister that cut Social welfare under a Fine Gael Government.
That may be the straw that breaks the Labour back benchers back. A labour minister being forced to make swinging cuts to the most vulnerable in society wont sit well with the grass roots.
Forget your property tax, water charges, abortion or the croke park deal. The only game in town is the budget.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, grandly pronounced today that they will not ‘flinch’ from the tough decisions. History has shown us from previous Labour coalitions they have flinched.
Colm Keaveney may find out if he is to be one of the unlucky 13 sooner rather than later….