25 May 2023 Edition
The patchwork Coalition is tattered after three years
It is hard to believe it is only three years since Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party cobbled together their Coalition government in June 2020.
So much has happened in the intervening period that it is easy to forget how long it took to put that patchwork together - from the election in February to government formation in June. But many voters will need no reminder that their vote for change was thwarted as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil conspired and combined to keep Sinn Féin out of government.
To their eternal shame, the Green Party made that political ready-up possible and kept the two conservative parties in power. Two parties whose record on dealing with the climate emergency has been piecemeal.
The new Government was formed as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country and, to an extent, the emergency masked the disjointed and incoherent nature of the Coalition. There was a broad consensus across the political spectrum to back the public health measures needed to fight the pandemic. It was only after it subsided that the patchwork nature of the government became much clearer.
There was a forlorn effort by Fianna Fáil in particular to present this Government, with its ‘rotating’ Taoisigh, as something new and shiny, just as they had tried to present their ‘confidence and supply’ support for the previous Fine Gael-led government as ‘new politics’. Of course in both cases, it was the same old parties doing the same old things they had done for decades.
In that context, there is a bitter irony in Leo Varadkar’s comments that Sinn Féin is “politics for slow learners”. How long has it taken Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to learn that to solve a housing crisis you need to build houses? By their efforts so far, it looks like they still have not learned.
• Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin
It was only determined pressure from Sinn Féin and others that forced the Coalition to introduce the no-fault eviction ban. But Fine Gael in particular never wanted it and they ensured that it was not extended for the rest of 2023, despite the growing toll of tenants in the private rented sector facing notices to quit. And despite the failure of Fianna Fáil Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien to answer the simple question, “Where will they go?”
The answer for many thousands will be either into homelessness or into a market that continues to fleece renters. A Daft.ie rent report in May showed rents continuing to rise across the state. Average new rents increased by almost 12% in the previous 12 months. Some 24 counties saw double digit rent inflation, most in the high teens. Four counties, Mayo, Longford, Roscommon, and Cavan, had rent increases of 20% or more.
The average new rent across the state is €1,750, while in Dublin City the average new rent is €2,302. As Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD said, “Despite the falling private rental stock and rising private rents, Government’s cost rental delivery is appallingly low. Just 684 cost rental homes were delivered last year. Government must accept that its cost rental targets are too low. They must also accept that the price of these cost rental units is too high.
“They must dramatically increase and accelerate the delivery of these much-needed cost rental homes and ensure that they are genuinely affordable to working people.”
As in housing, so in healthcare. The Coalition’s record is lamentable. Data released by the HSE to Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Cullinane TD shows that there were more than 85,000 Hospital appointments and procedures cancelled in the first four months of the year. There were more than 24,000 appointments cancelled in April, the worst month so far, which is nearly 70% more than were cancelled in April 2022.
David Cullinane said, “This government has not made the necessary investments in hospital care or in community care. There is a deficit of 1,000 acute inpatient beds in hospitals, and there are now more than 6,000 people waiting for home support. There are hundreds of delayed discharges every year because of the lack of community recovery beds and home support.
“The health service is not delivering the right care in the right place at the right time. We are seeing this across primary care now, with longer waiting times for GPs and dentistry, which will lead to worse health outcomes. Waiting times are rising across the board. All of this dysfunction is leading to more emergency presentations which is leading to more cancellations. It is a vicious cycle which has not been broken.
“The only solution is a multi-annual plan to expand hospital capacity – across diagnostics, beds, theatre capacity, and staffing – and to deliver a step-change in primary and community care to shift some of the burden out of hospitals.”
• Sinn Féin Health spokesperson David Cullinane
The Coalition had hoped that the ‘rotation’ of Taoisigh at the end of 2022, with Leo Varadkar replacing Mícheál Martin, would be hailed as momentous and historic, 100 years after the Civil War. But given the reality of the housing, health, and cost of living crises, there was no such ‘buzz’ around the event. In fact, mention of the Civil War just reminded people how long these parties have been in Government and how acutely real political change is needed.
Mícheál Martin now has the unique distinction of being the Fianna Fáil leader who has kept three Fine Gael Taoisigh in office - Enda Kenny once and Leo Varadkar twice. It is little wonder that Martin will not trust citizens to have a say on key issues. He refuses to set up a Citizens’ Assembly on Irish Unity, despite growing support for that call across Ireland and among the diaspora.
Similarly, in his efforts to undermine independent Irish foreign policy and military neutrality, Martin has set up a hand-picked forum chaired by a ‘dame’ of the British Empire to look at these core issues, rather than a Citizens Assembly.
Martin, Varadkar, and their Green ally Eamon Ryan have good reason to be nervous about the verdict of citizens. That is why they will likely hold together their tattered patchwork Coalition until the bitter end and hold off a general election as long as possible. But the grass is getting longer, and the voters are waiting in it. ν
• Mícheál Mac Donncha is a Dublin City Sinn Féin councillor