In a recent and rather pessimistic article for the newsletter, union commentator Alex Kane coined a pithy phrase to describe Stormont’s inherently dysfunctional regional administration: “… two governments in one executive”. A similar description could well apply to the national government in Dublin. Just as the barely contained rivalry between Sinn Féin and the DUP has dwarfed the participation of smaller parties in the executive, so has the shadow boxing between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael masked the presence of the Green Ministers and their legion of advisers in the coalition . All eyes are on the two big beasts of Irish politics, crowded together by electoral circumstances and united only by a determination to deny Sinn Féin and the smaller parties on the ideological left access to the levers of power.
The disagreement of intentions in the ruling troika is most evident in the very public contradictions regarding further lockdown restrictions, where Tánaiste and Taoiseach manage to turn in opposite directions within a few days. After making up an artificial confrontation with NPHET, Leo Varadkar is suggesting a Level 5-style “circuit break” to stop the latest wave of Covid-19 infections, possibly with prolonged school closings, followed by Micheál Martin, who decidedly ruled out such a step and promised to continue with the current agreements. Not so much that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, but rather that both hands are holding knives to do serious harm to the other should a favorable moment arise.
Things don’t look much better in the north-east of the country, and arguably worse, as the Stormont executive is also split over how to respond to advice from their health teams when a second wave of the pandemic comes from various parts of the country erupts island. Democratic Unionists are reluctant to agree to calls for urgent action against the deteriorating numbers. A handful of senior DUP leaders are clearly in the anti-lockdown camp as SF scrutinizes how best to respond as they continue to try to maintain the facade of collaborating with the executive that the local and national press calls for.
All in all, there seems little reason for optimism as we head into the winter months.