In a recent and rather pessimistic article for the News Letter the unionist commentator Alex Kane coined a pithy phrase to describe the inherently dysfunctional regional administration at Stormont: “…two governments in the 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 eclipsed the participation of smaller parties in the Executive, so too has the shadow boxing between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael obscured the presence of Green Party ministers and their legion of advisors in the coalition. All eyes are on the big two beasts of Irish politics, forced together by electoral circumstances, and united by little more than a determination to deny Sinn Féin and the smaller parties of the ideological left access to the levers of power.
The disunity of purpose in the governing troika is most obvious in the very public contradictions on further lockdown restrictions with the Tánaiste and Taoiseach managing to spin in opposite directions of each other within the space of a few days. Leo Varadkar, after contriving an artificial row with NPHET, hints at a Level 5 style “circuit break” to halt the latest wave of Covid-19 infections, possibly with an extended closure of schools, followed by Micheál Martin firmly ruling out such a move and pledging to continue with the present arrangements. Not so much a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but more of a case of both hands holding knives with the intent of doing serious harm to the other should an advantageous moment present itself.
Things aren’t much better in the north-east of the country, and arguably worse, with the Stormont Executive also split over how to respond to the advice of its health teams as a second surge of the pandemic ripples out from various points across the island. The Democratic Unionists are reluctant to accede to calls for urgent action on the worsening figures, with a handful of senior DUP leaders clearly in the anti-lockdown camp, while SF struggles on how best to respond while still trying to maintain the facade of cooperation in the Executive that the local and national press demands.
All things considered there seems to be little reason for optimism as we head into the winter months.