Government and Opposition tactics come into focus as Harris era begins

Simon Harris’s first Leaders’ Questions was a gentle enough affair but there were still insights to be gleaned

Leaders’ Questions every Tuesday afternoon signals the start of the parliamentary week. It is an important staging post and it can tell a lot about the tactics and strategies bubbling away beneath the surface. It assumes perhaps an outsized importance in the collective imagination of Leinster House folk, relative to the awareness of the rest of the world. This week even more so as Simon Harris prepared to take his delayed first round as Taoiseach.

In the end, it was a gentle enough affair, relatively speaking - but there are still insights to be gleaned. The Opposition attempted to draw a line from two issues Simon Harris championed during his time in health - overhauling scoliosis treatment and repealing the Eighth Amendment - to the current situation in both areas, where clear issues remain, highlighted by campaigners and by an RTÉ Investigates programme on abortion services on Monday night. There was no slam-dunk moment for either Harris or his antagonists, but the intent is clear: to present Harris as a politician whose record on delivery falls short compared to his promises and snappy rhetoric.

Senior Fine Gael figures believe that since their miscalculated attack on Minister for Justice Helen McEntee after the Dublin riots, Sinn Féin will make every effort to shift the agenda back to health and housing, so the thrust of their attack on scoliosis was not a surprise. And you can see the logic - to undermine the “new energy” promised by Harris with the Coalition’s failure to solve old problems, and to link them to his ministerial record.

On abortion in particular, which was raised by Holly Cairns and Bríd Smith, the Government is in a tricky position. As Jennifer Bray reports on today’s Irish Times front page, there is a clear nervousness within the Coalition about proceeding with potentially divisive reforms recommended by the review of the post-repeal legislation. With momentum against liberalising moves, the political calculus is clearly to avoid thorny issues and try to maximise the impact of mid-sized interventions like the sentencing on knife crime measures trumpeted by the Government after Cabinet.


Expect this to be a pattern that repeats itself in the weeks and months ahead.

Read Marie O’Halloran’s Dáil report here.

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The Dáil opens with topical issues before People Before Profit have a motion on disability justice - expect the Opposition to focus in on this area to reflect Simon Harris’s stated ambitions to achieve substantial progress here. Leaders’ Questions is at midday, followed by questions on policy or legislation at 12.34pm.

Government business in the afternoon includes statements on road safety and the second stage of legislation enabling the automatic enrolment pension plan.

The full Dáil schedule can be found here.

The Oireachtas health committee hears from the HSE and advocates on the issue of long Covid at 9.30am, while Ireland’s offshore wind strategy is up for discussion at the enterprise committee at the same time. The planning and development Bill continues its hearings at the housing committee, while the transport committee hears from Siptu on anti-social behaviour on public transport in the afternoon.

The full committee hearing schedule can be found here.

Proceedings get under way in the Seanad at 10.30am. In the afternoon, statements on the cost of doing business will take centre stage (with Simon Harris promising action on this issue at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday evening). There will be a motion on school enrolment brought by Fianna Fáil Senators at 5.30pm.

Here’s the full Seanad schedule.

Simon Harris is in Brussels for his first European Council meeting. Read Pat Leahy’s tee-up to matters here.

Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath are in Washington, DC, attending IMF and World Bank spring meetings.

Micheál Martin is attending a commissioning ceremony at the Curragh in the afternoon.

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