THEY’RE a crafty lot, the Shinners, all the same.
They got a right pasting from some quarters for having the temerity to stage a mass public meeting in Cork this week.
Comments by rival politicians that this was akin to some kind of coup d’état were condemned as hysterical, and rightly so.
Undeterred by the critics, Mary Lou McDonald went ahead with plans to take her Sinn Féin bandwagon into other cities across the country, anxious to keep up the momentum from her election success.
It could prove to be a cunning move as, if — or should that be when, as I write this? — the coronavirus finally reaches the Republic, it could be quite some time before any mass gathering of people is allowed to take place again.
Mary Lou and Co were simply planning ahead... like I said, a crafty lot!
However, there was one area where the party could rightly be criticised this week, and that was in relation to the painfully slow progress — or lack thereof — among all the parties in failing to form a government.
The election was 21 days ago now and there really is no excuse for all this dawdling and humming and hawing around possible coalition options.
It’s like a country dance where every guest is a shrinking wallflower, waiting for someone with a bit of oomph to politely take them by the hand and ask them if they fancy a jag.
(Correction: Eamon Ryan is that uber-confident guy, who will jump into bed with anyone that will have him, but who keeps being rebuffed by the others, who shush him away while hinting that maybe, come the slow set, if he’s still asking, mind...)
The problem we have is this: After the 2016 election, it took 63 days between polling day and the consummation of a Fine Gael-led minority government.
Assuming the same snail-pace this time around, that will mean we can expect a new government to be formed around Easter Saturday this year!
Not only is that a ludicrously long time for our politicians to be engaging in a war of attrition, but, with the onset of a possible national emergency surrounding the coronavirus becoming more likely by the day, this delay could inflict untold damage to the entire country.
If coronavirus arrives here and cases start to spread across our communities, we will need a strong, cohesive, decisive, and competent government in place to deal with the fall-out.
A plethora of decisions would be required in double-quick time. Do hospitals, ports and airport, go on lockdown? Do schools and universities close? What about public transport? What do we do with quarantined cases? Should all public events, from St Patrick’s Day parades to Sunday mass, from GAA matches to — yes — political rallies, be postponed?
Heck, the fear of an outbreak of the virus here is now so real that our government should already be having these discussions, so they are not caught on the hop. Are such discussions happening?
Yes, I am aware that ministers will continue in their roles until the formation of a new government — but that is far from satisfactory if Ireland and the rest of Europe and the world is bracing itself to face one of the most deadly virus outbreaks in living memory.
I am also aware that a group called the National Public Health Emergency Team are involved in planning for any outbreak. But this team only offer advice to the Government — and therein lies the problem. We don’t, to all intents and purposes, have one!
I have heard Simon Harris giving us a few updates from the Department of Health, but is this yesterday’s man, treading water until he forfeits his ministerial portfolio, really the right person in the right place at the right time?
No offence to Mr Harris, but he hardly gained a great reputation as a problem-solver during his time in charge of our ailing health system, and his presence in the role, running down the clock, would hardly be inspiring to a nation in the grip of coronavirus.
Look, I’m not interested in stoking up hysteria here; hopefully, the virus will not reach our shores and will peter out, like so many others have down the years.
But it’s fair to say that this virus is a very real and almost present danger and that we at the very least need a good system in place in a worst case scenario.
Hence the urgency to form a new government, and hence the frustration in some quarters that, rather than trying to fulfil the voters’ mandate this week, Sinn Féin embarked on a headline-grabbing tour instead of talking with potential suitors.
When it comes to Sinn Féin: We need jaw-jaw... and don’t mention the war-war!
The same is true of Micheál Martin — who has an equal prerogative and mandate to Mary-Lou McDonald in terms of the formation of the next government — and Leo Varadkar.
If these three, who hold the lion’s share of the next Dáil in their hands, cannot agree anything very quickly, then perhaps another swift election is required to break out of the impassé — given the coronavirus fears. An added complication here is that canvassing for and holding an election will also spread germs!
President Michael D. Higgins may have a role to play in bashing heads together. After the last election, he waited 53 days before sending a shot across the bows of Leo and Micheál. The impatient President said if they were unable to reach an agreement, he was “very, very well aware” of Article 13 of the constitution, giving him the “absolute power” to decide whether the Dáil should be dissolved if the Taoiseach tells him a government cannot be formed.
May I humbly suggest to Michael D that he sends such a shot across the bows a lot quicker this time around? Because I don’t think this coronavirus is going to hold back on invading this country until we’re good and ready and have a government in place.