A New Year always brings with it lots of resolutions and hope. As the government gets back into the swing of things it will be reasonably content but it will also know that 2013 could be the make or break year.
The political problems are going to start early. Over the next few weeks we are going to hear a lot about abortion. Longford TD James Bannon is going to be closely watched by all sides in this debate. The problem for the government is that there is no easy solution on abortion.
The vast majority of people have called for legislation in line with the ‘X’ case. Making that call is easy, where it gets difficult is when you ask people what legislation will mean and what they actually want.
For those who support freely available abortion then legislating for ‘X’ poses no difficulty whatsoever. This may indeed be simply another stepping stone to giving a person a choice over what to do with their own body. If it is challenged in the courts and the terms must be widened then this group will see this as no bad thing.
On the other hand there are those who believe abortion must be confined to where a very real or genuine risk is posed to the life of the mother. They will find it far more difficult to be appeased by the safeguards and in attempting to appease this side the government may end up upsetting those on the pro-choice side.
Kathleen Lynch, speaking in the Dail before Christmas said that no matter what the government does this matter is likely to end up before the courts again and any legislation is unlikely to be a solution. On this she is very much correct.
FG will also be worried that it may cost them TDs. A TD losing the whip causes problems for a party because you lose your voice on the ground. When Labour lost Willie Penrose it affected the party brand in the constituency. However, with only one TD it’s not a disaster because he can hold on to his personal vote and rejoin Labour later.
Where you have two or three TDs it’s more problematic as a TD losing the whip will reduce the likelihood that voters will continue their preference along party lines and therefore damages your chances of extra seats. Enda Kenny himself is said to have difficulties on the abortion question and no body can doubt that James Bannon has a deeply held personal belief on this issue. Enormous pressure is going to be exerted in the weeks ahead.
Labour has felt the pressure in government. It has a mini-party in exile on the opposition benches. The Labour cabinet ministers are an interesting bunch. Apart from Joan Burton, they all have one thing in common. They are part of the ‘old boys’ club and the best of their career is behind them. Joan Burton remains the only Labour minister who may still believe her career has further to go after this government.
Many young and active Labour TDs and members will be watching her closely as they keep their eye on the long term future for the party.
Labour has pushed a gamble for the government. That gamble will be played before the end of March.
It is the insistence that Ireland gets a deal on its debt from the EU. This deal is absolutely vital and should have happened even earlier, but the Germans would rather wait until after their own elections in autumn.
The IMF recently back Ireland’s position on the need to ease off austerity. If the government secures a good deal then they may even be hailed as heroes and this could save their reputation and steady the nerves of TDs. If they fail it could spell disaster.
Meanwhile, the rest of us start back into our own year and only as time goes on will the effects of the budget really be felt. Carers were hit by the cut to the respite care grant, which they will notice in June.
More immediately and under the radar, carers and old people were hit this month by a big reduction in the telephone allowance. For such a vital communication link, especially in rural areas this is a direct income cut and will be very much noticed.
All of that is happening while we await six months of furious debate over the property tax to come into effect in June. Buckle up; we could be in for a bumpy ride.