The end finally appears to be in sight to the Brexit negotiations which have dominated the agenda for the entirety of Leo Varadkar’s time as Taoiseach.
Varadkar emerges from the negotiations with an enhanced reputation with both Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker paying tribute to the role he played. Recent polls show Fine Gael leading on 29% but all may not be as it seems.
While undoubtedly a crucial issue, Brexit has acted as a distraction from other major issues facing Irish society and given the government a ready made excuse for many problems. With the negotiations concluding, the government may finally have to face up to the domestic problems their policies have exacerbated.
In August of this year 10,338 people were accessing emergency accommodation, 3,848 of whom were children. This is an 8.5 per cent increase on August 2018 and the problem just continues to get worse. The government are having no success in tackling this problem and the minister is still in a job.
More shocking than these statistics are some of the images encountered in Dublin. Homeless people sleeping in doorways and groups of people queuing for food from charities are regular sights in Dublin at night. This week a photograph of a young homeless boy eating pasta while sitting on the Dublin pavement went viral.
The homeless crisis is a national disgrace but in many ways it now feels like old news. The crisis hasn’t gone away, it’s gotten worse. Brexit is so dominant in the media, other stories almost feel forgotten.
The government’s poor performance also extends into the health service. Waiting lists grow longer and longer. The number of people on long-term hospital waiting lists has jumped by 800 percent in the last three years.
The health service has also faced the cervical check scandal as well as the billion euro overspend on the new National Children’s Hospital. Health minister Simon Harris is also still in his job despite numerous calls for him to resign.
Fine Gael have been in government for almost a decade. In the first few years they blamed the banking crisis for the crippling austerity imposed on the Irish people. Since the vote on June 23rd 2016, “Brexit uncertainty” has been used to explain away many problems. No doubt they’ll find more excuses.
The dominance of Brexit and the sense the Irish government handled the negotiations well explains at least in part how Varadkar is enjoying a 51 per cent approval rating. But when Brexit is no longer the dominant issue it will be easier for people to see this government’s failure in other crucial areas.
When the compromised Brexit deal was reached, you’d expect a feeling of relief around government buildings. But in reality it was probably more like dread. Dread, that soon there’ll be no Brexit to distract from the ineptitude of the government and their ugly domestic policies.
The Brexit circus will soon leave town and the public will be more clearly able to see the true state of many aspects of the country.