Here are five topics that will be on the political agenda in the new year:
This isn’t going away, folks. The Dublin riots – fueled by thugs and sparked by the far right – were not about immigration policy per se. But like it or not, they have placed immigration and asylum policy as well as public order at the center of the political debate. Like it or not, the entire region is causing great public concern. Like it or not, the parties will have to face it.
The most likely landing point for immigration asylum policy is a significantly increased national capacity for housing asylum seekers and a significantly accelerated asylum processing system – at least relative to until today -. It is unlikely that the political system can combine this with an imaginative and effective program for admitting economic migrants, on whom significant parts of our economy and public services depend.
But it will certainly be one of the challenges of 2024, here and throughout the Western world. Just look at what is happening across Europe when it comes to migration, where it is the number one problem in many countries. Hopefully we can handle this a little more decently. But this will not be done without paying attention to people’s concerns on the subject, legitimate or not.
Hate Speech Bill
Justice Minister Helen McEntee has pledged to introduce the Hate Crime and Speech Bill early in the new year. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Dublin riots, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said this would be done by the end of this year. But the legislation has proven tricky, not least because it has avoided defining hate, but also because it is unclear what will be illegal to say after it is passed and what it will not. isn’t already illegal to say now.
The bill will certainly have its parliamentary critics, but it has also attracted widespread international attention, including from Twitter/X owner Elon Musk. McEntee has been working to tell everyone that the new bill doesn’t go as far as people fear.
But she also has some explaining to do to people in favor of the bill. In a debate in the Seanad earlier this year, Green Party senator Pauline O’Reilly explained: “If your views about other people’s identities contribute to making their lives dangerous, uncertain and causing them such deep discomfort that they cannot live in peace, then I believe it is our duty as legislators to restrict these freedoms for the common good. If that’s what the bill does, then McEntee will find that opposition to this bill extends beyond weirdos on Twitter.
Prepare yourselves. There will certainly be two national elections, the local ones and the euro, this year. Expect speculation about a general election to start early and continue unabated until it happens.
Generally speaking, there are three possible windows for the next election: spring 2024, autumn 2024 and spring 2025. If it is to be spring, we should know soon enough, as preparations in Fine Gael ( it is the Fine Gael Taoiseach who will ultimately decide) will take off like a rocket in the new year. But Leo Varadkar needs a public reason beyond “I believe it’s in my political interest” to launch into the first half of 2024 – and so far, he doesn’t have it. It’s better to bet in the fall, probably after another big spending budget. But Fianna Fáil and the Greens want to go the distance, until spring 2025, and if the government wants to present itself as a success worthy of re-election, a messy and controversial end is not ideal. Going the distance is dangerous, however, because you leave yourself at the mercy of events. But the reality is that there are potential pitfalls regardless of when Varadkar decides to leave. You can rest assured that all of this will be the subject of ad magnam nauseam speculation between now and the day.
Yes, the cemeteries are full of indispensable men. But characters and relationships at the highest levels of government matter. This is why the possible departure of Paschal Donohoe to the International Monetary Fund next summer and – perhaps – of Michael McGrath to the European Commission around the same time represents a material threat to the well-being of the Coalition. If McGrath doesn’t go, who will? Michael Martin? This now seems less likely than it did a year ago, but it would still be an earthquake for Fianna Fáil. The truth is that the public is completely uninterested in politicians’ jobs – but politicians are very interested in the subject.
Proposed referendums on constitutional language regarding women and carers have generated as much enthusiasm in government – with the exception of Roderic O’Gorman and, periodically, Leo Varadkar – as the dose of election campaigns. Nevertheless, the bill has been tabled in the Dáil and the date has been set, so they will move forward. Even at this point, with the propensity of a portion of voters to vote against everything the government proposes, they look like a giant banana peel.
State-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the National Council of Women, and their supposed allies in the unions all say they will have to think carefully before making a decision. Ultimately, NGOs will likely decide that weak new wording is, on balance, preferable to defeat and gain enough votes to adopt them. But you wouldn’t bet the house on them dying if you had a house. Expect to hear a lot on this topic in the coming weeks, as the Dáil debates the wording and the new Electoral Commission prepares its information campaign.