Dáil Predictions and Aims

With what was an eventful summer now behind us, Gavin Tracey looks ahead to see what will be discussed in Leinster House.The Dáil is set to resume sitting on the 18th September, after a summer recess. More often than not, news comes to a halt in these months, the proverbial silly season, where lack of any real news fills the papers with stories that normally would have never seen the light of day. However, this has been a more eventful summer than most, resulting in some good old fashioned political spectacle, meaning Dáil debate will be heated from day one. From the Healy-Rae’s sputtering indignations, to Brendan Howlin desperately trying to be taken seriously, here’s what one might expect to see coming before the Dáil this year.First and foremost, the pressing issue when the Dáil resumes will be the task of legislating for abortion, after the May referendum delivered an impressive 66% ‘Yes’ vote. The landslide victory will certainly make legislating easier than was previously expected, with nearly all counties and constituencies having given their TD a firm mandate to legislate for abortion. However, one cannot expect it to go in any way smoothly. To begin with, the question of term limits will be hotly contested. Simon Harris has said he intends for the legislation to be passed by October, but how reasonable is it to expect this?One must take into account the substantial number of TDs who campaigned for a ‘No’ vote - and while many say they will not try to impede the legislation, they have many issues with what is being proposed. The term limit of 12 weeks will be debated fiercely, with Danny Healy-Rae saying he has “reservations about the 12 weeks”. While he says he has no intention to block the legislation, one must keep in mind that this is the same man than filibustered a change to drink driving laws, lowering the legal limit of alcohol one may consume and still drive. Others, such as Eamon Ó Cuiv, one of the most ardent proponents of a ‘No’ vote, has refused to state a position on the issue. It is perhaps wishful thinking on the part of Harris to assume all of those who fought for a ‘No’ vote will simply accept the result and vote along with the government.There is also the debate surrounding doctors who wish to ‘conscientiously object’. GP’s who have a moral objection to abortion say they do not wish to facilitate in any part of the procedure, which may include refusing to refer a patient to another doctor who will. The Irish Medical Organisation has released a statement asking for those who wish to conscientiously object be taken into account. Harris has stated that no GP will be forced by law to perform a termination, but questions regarding referrals are still being asked.While the debates may turn nasty and drag, those who are anxious as to the passing of the legislation can rest assured. The mathematics of the current Dáil will ensure that the legislation will be passed with relative ease, with Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats, the left wing parties such as Solidarity, as well the majority of Independents, all holding steadfast pro-choice views.The issue of housing, and the current crisis in Dublin with relation to homelessness and affordable housing, will prove to be more divisive. Both Sinn Féin and others, including Solidarity and Labour, have accused the government of being asleep at the wheel when it comes to the issue of housing. Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, has come under intense pressure as of late (the new moniker of “Posh Boy” seems to be sticking). Already Sinn Féin have submitted a motion of no confidence in him, but he still has the seemingly steadfast support of an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - who doesn’t seem to mind that his housing minister has done little to nothing to help ease the crisis. As to how he fares as the public outrage around the housing crisis, only time will tell.The larger existential question surrounding the future of the government is how long the confidence and supply arrangement between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will last past the 2019 budget. Over the summer, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin took various potshots at each other in the press over the future of the confidence and supply deal. Varadkar saying he wants to extend it, Martin giving various answers to the tune of ‘we’ll see’. However, with Brexit looming, and the ‘national stability’ narrative pervading all talks of a future election, it is unlikely that either party will pull out of the deal. The latest opinion polls have Varadkar and Fine Gael in the lead, but not by much, and with Martin’s and Mary Lou McDonald’s numbers almost neck and neck, it serves neither party’s interests to cause an election. How long the arrangement will last after the UK leaves the European Union in March is anyone’s guess however.Another issue that will be sure to raise much discussion will be John Halligan, of the Independent Alliance, introducing a bill to allow for assisted dying. In the wake of the repeal vote, euthanasia is the next big moral debate. One can imagine the lines of support being drawn roughly along those of the abortion debate, although for many this issue may be seen as a step too far. As well as the proposals surrounding the removal of the blasphemy clause from the constitution, Ireland is continuing it’s trend of shaking off its Catholic past.Conjecture as to how the next year of political discourse and legislation will evolve is for the most part futile, but at the very least, these are what you expect to hear from the Dáil over the coming months (or however long this government lasts).