Mixed political messages – but the talks go on

Well, where are we now in this political jungle in which we the voters are mere observers and the actors in the play are on our screens and radio day after day?

Sometimes we can make sense of the message and sometimes not. For a short period last week it seemed as if there was going to be a way out of the impasse when Enda Kenny dangled the idea of a grand partnership coalition between his party and Fianna Fáil, but that flickered and then faltered as quickly as it had lit up.

As the readers all know, that would be my preferred option, but I fully respect and understand the dilemma in which Micheál Martin finds himself. The Fianna Fáil organisation and voters would not take kindly to it, hence the difficulty.

If I had a piece of advice to give to Enda Kenny, it would be to dispense with his ‘handlers’. I feel it was the advice of his handlers which led to the disaster of the election mantra and to a lacklustre Fine Gael campaign in which Enda never seemed to be his old, open self. Instead he was choreographed to the nth degree, all of which made him appear false and uncertain.

Micheál Martin, on the other hand, has a very small group of advisors. He has his female assistant as his chief advisor. I know her for years and we have often spoken on the telephone during the General Election and after. One other person makes up his ‘inner cabinet’ and after that he relies very much on his own political instincts, which serve him well.

When Enda made the offer of a political partnership coalition and the offer was spurned, that appeared to be that for a few days. However, I understand there are back channels at work. This means that people outside the two main protagonists are going and coming between the two camps so to speak. Hopefully there will be some measure of consensus between them soon.

It looks like it could well end in a Fine Gael minority government kept in office by Fianna Fáil, who would vote for them on issues like budgets and votes of confidence.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the time this occurred when we [Fianna Fáil] were in government and the Tallaght Strategy was practised by Alan Dukes as head of Fine Gael. It was as difficult then as it is this time around. If that is the road on which Enda and Micheál and their parties are embarking, there would have to be very clear lines laid down as to what would be supported and what would not be supported. The policies would have to be very clearly worked out and the Dáil reform would have to be agreed well beforehand.

Is all of this doable? Yes, I think it could be, but it will require clear minds, well couched policies and defined political actions. As I write this, the Dáil is to meet again on Thursday of this week and as yet the conduct of the parties on that day is uncertain.

Now, what about the role of the Independents? I feel they are playing a very solid game wanting to contribute to the make-up of government because not one of the Independents wants to go back to the electorate. For that matter, not one of the elected 158 want to go back to the electorate.

Of course, the Independents are looking at issues which concern them dearly such as rural life, rural post offices, flooding, and hospital matters. The group of six which is made up of Shane Ross and others is very serious and very committed. Equally, the group of five headed up by Denis Naughten is extremely serious about matters which they are discussing. They are equally serious in their determination not to become the fall guys.

Meanwhile, of course, life goes on and many difficulties and challenges remain to be addressed and surmounted. Among them are the wishes and woes of the teachers’ unions. I was a secondary school teacher myself for a few short years so anything they say or do is of interest to me.

They are very exercised about two main matters: the unfair starting rate for new teachers which also affects the starting rate for Gardaí, nurses, and others in the medical community. Then there is the other issue of correcting their own pupils’ State Examination papers. I fully agree with the teachers’ stance on this issue.

The three teachers’ conferences at Easter were also the venues for collective giving-out to the Minister and pleading for amelioration of their plights. So well I remember the five Easters when I was Minister for Education. After the initial one, I always enjoyed them hugely and made so many firm friends in the teaching community.

This time around the teachers’ unions had no minister to kick about metaphorically speaking, yet the problems remain. Recently, Jan O’Sullivan, the acting Minister for Education, decided that as she was in an acting capacity she could not possibly go and take decisions at those Easter conferences.

Then there is the continued waiting on trollies for patients with no solution appearing to be in sight.

Farmers’ woes multiply and need to be addressed too.

Let’s hope the talking continues in a fruitful vein this week, whether the talks are back channel or upfront. It is important to keep people’s minds and hearts engaged.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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