Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Any new party would have to be Eurosceptic to gain real support

The Government, from tomorrow, faces the substantial challenge of assuming the presidency of Europe for a six-month period. It's a challenge that will weigh heavily on its formal duties and impinge significantly on other domestic objectives, including new laws to deal with abortion.

There is no real benefit in the task. Power has been taken from the presidency by the unelected bureaucrats and the major powers, leaving what is only a titular event. Changed times are emphasised by the fact that we celebrate better past times tomorrow – the 40th anniversary of Ireland joining Europe.

We engage with a Europe that evokes increasingly mixed feelings. Our lives are governed by it, yet democratic control of it is extremely limited. It is our turn for a job uncharged with resolving central issues. Nevertheless, if the Taoiseach comes out at the end of the six-month period with some resolution of our biggest financial burden it will be no mean achievement.

It is likely to be the second half of the year before he sorts out a convincing reform programme, one that reassures us that the Coalition is not adopting the previous government's jobbery and strokes, thus failing to demonstrate higher standards than Fianna Fail. It will also be later in the year before it resolves the problem over abortion by means of legislation, referendum or both.

Mr Kenny and his closest political allies could do without the current political instability within the Government, some of it within Fine Gael but most in Labour. Furthermore, according to an opinion poll last week, half the population wants a new political party! Has it come to this, after less than two years? And, if it has, what kind of party could we want?

Analysis by my friend John Drennan, by Paul Moran (one of those responsible for the polling) and by Michael McDowell, was interesting. It focused on disaffection to an alarming degree.

Mr McDowell thought Labour was mistaken going into coalition instead of becoming the main opposition party. Mr McDowell saw 'a gap in the market'. He perhaps needs this new party because he lost the last one he had, the Progressive Democrats. He also failed to create another before the last election. A week ago, he speculated on a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail amalgamation! This is not going to happen.

John Dren- -nan was more pragmatic, giving us a witty, well-informed assessment of dissidents in the Dail, enough to make three new parties, not one.

Mr Moran interpreted what the public want and how the Government might supply it better. This was a sensible exploration, but not comprehensive enough.

The missing factor, from all three, was any proper assessment of the elephant in the drawing room for the next six months. That is Europe.

The only time in recent years when half the electorate have voted against all the political parties combined was over Europe, in the two Lisbon Treaty referendums in 2008 and 2009. Is this not the vacuum where we should locate a new party? The only new political party that would gain positive approval by the 50pc of the population who want such a party would be Eurosceptic. Europe has recently failed us. We need better leadership on that.

Politically, it would need the return of Declan Ganley. He shows no signs of making such a move.

The opinion-poll view of what people want is not evenly balanced. It shows higher levels of new party demand from Connaught-Ulster, from C2DEs and from the younger 25-34 age group. It is also reinforced by the reality that Europe is a burdensome yoke on our backs economically, an increasingly undemocratic and intrusive institution that affronts our sovereignty and is going to cost the taxpayer immeasurable billions into the future.

That is not the 'new political party' envisaged by Mr McDowell. Would he want to grapple with dissatisfaction over Europe? We would be more likely to get another pro-Europe party.

For Enda Kenny, the year ahead is crucial for his and Fine Gael's future. With the formalities of the EU presidency, there rests the urgent need for him to get a deal on the promissory notes and the legacy debt. He should not engage immediately with the abortion problem. It has waited for 20 years. Tackled during the presidency it would become a millstone.

Nevertheless, it needs to be tackled within the democratic system, involving legislation and possibly another referendum.

A deal on the promissory notes and the legacy debt as well would line him up for a second electoral victory, probably more substantial than his first. It would be my hope that we would then see the first majority Fine Gael government in our history. That would make the second term easier than the first.

The occasion requires that the people be consulted over grave human rights and law-making issues and both helps and accepts the political part of the complex solution.