by Frank Schnittger
Fri May 6th, 2016 at 02:41:36 PM EST
After 70 days of Political paralysis in Ireland, Enda Kenny has become the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected to that role, and also the first leader of a country that underwent a Troika bail-out programme to be re-elected to government. However his election today, by 59 votes to 49 with 50 abstentions, underlines the weakness of his political position. His government will be made up of 50 Fine Gael TDs (Members of Parliament) and a rag bag of independents who can rarely agree on anything and it is anyone's guess how long his new Government can survive.
Crucially, his government will be dependent on Fianna Fail abstaining on issues of confidence and of finance as provided for in their Confidence and Supply arrangement, but there is no guarantee that his government will be able to secure a parliamentary majority on anything else. Fianna Fail and the independents have managed to secure commitments to additional measures and spending commitments amounting to about 6.75bn per annum by 2021 - an increase which is within the "fiscal space" identified by the outgoing Government between expected revenues and the Irish Government's commitments under the Stability and Growth Pact.
However there are also many challenges that may shorten the life of this government considerably, including the continuing disagreements over the future of water charges, many industrial relations disputes centred on reversing austerity cuts to wages, and the fall-out, should it happen, from a UK vote to exit the EU. The full Programme for Government runs to 150 pages and represents a small shift in political priorities from austerity and economic adjustment to meeting unmet needs in housing, healthcare, education, and rural infrastructure. A citizens' convention will also be set up to examine the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives equal rights to a mother and her unborn child, with a view to liberalising Ireland's highly restrictive abortion regime.
The cabinet, which has just been announced, is noteworthy for containing Independent and prominent LGBT campaigner Katherine Zappone who re-married her long standing partner, Ann Louise Gilligan, after the referendum on marriage equality last year. Leo Varadker, one of the leading candidates to replace Enda Kenny as Taoiseach should the latter retire, is also openly gay. However the cabinet contains only 4 women (out of a total of 15) despite the Taoiseach's stated commitment to gender balance.