Scoring points: all political parties have engaged in acts of cynicism designed to win over the electorate

All Healy-Rae politics is local

All politics is local, especially Healy-Rae politics. After finance minister Brian Lenihan announced the government's plans for a €6bn budget adjustment, independent Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae produced a shopping list. He claimed a commitment for a Tralee bypass and funding for a Kenmare hospital were necessary for the government to continue counting on his support.

Last December, Healy-Rae claimed he had secured the Kenmare hospital in his pre-budget deal with the government. But the HSE had already outlined it was committed to build the 40-bed hospital 11 months previously. The facility had actually been promised to the people of Kerry since the 1970s.

Given that the hospital has been promised for over 30 years, there is more than a hint of political cynicism attached to Healy-Rae's annual pre-budget calls for a commitment that the hospital will be built. Watch this space – he called for it again last week and the government is likely to grant him his wish, again. The issue will then be parked until then next time Healy-Rae raises it.

Jim McDaid's predictable unpredictability

"Predictably unpredictable", was one political commentator's apt description of Donegal North-West TD Dr Jim McDaid's resignation announcement last Tuesday. McDaid said he was leaving the Dáil for "personal reasons" and he is entitled to his privacy in that area. But the former minister also sent a letter to Taoiseach Brian Cowen the week before last.

In the letter, he said a general election should have been called before the forthcoming 7 December budget. McDaid claimed the country would be gripped by instability and uncertainty in the spring unless a new government was elected and added that the government was "focusing on what is politically possible rather than what is economically necessary".

He added that the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the bond markets have no confidence in Ireland because "they see this government as a temporary little arrangement, that another is waiting in the wings and they await to see the colour of their eyes".

The reality is that if McDaid was so concerned about the "temporary little arrangement" and he really wanted a general election, his best chance of forcing such an election would have been to stay in the Dáil and vote against the budget.

By-election delays

Eighteen months is too long for a Dáil seat to remain vacant in Donegal South- West. Few could dispute the main thrust of High Court judge Nicholas Kearns' decision last week which labelled the 18-month delay as "unreasonable". Fianna Fáil has long-fingered the by-election in the knowledge it is unlikely to win it. No government party has won a by-election since Noel Treacy in Galway East in July 1982. It was a politically pragmatic decision by Sinn Féin to mount the High Court challenge against the state over the delay. Although one wonders if the party would have mounted such a challenge if its man had not been the favourite to win the seat.

Similarly, a decision by Fine Gael to mount a similar challenge against the government for failing to move the writ for the Dublin South by-election smacks of cynicism. Was it not the erratic behavior of its own George Lee that caused the vacancy in the first place? Lee's departure actually added to the cynicism about politics that he intended to fight.

The absentee 'man in charge'

Following Jim McDaid's resignation last week, independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae assumed even more power. Their continued support for the government is now essential if the most draconian budget in the history of the state is to pass its way through the Dáil. One commentator said last week that "only one man looks happy: Michael Lowry. He's in charge. He holds the balance of power." Yet the man who holds power spent part of the week in Dublin Castle. He was defending himself at the 13-year-old Moriarty tribunal. The 'man in charge' of the madhouse had other things on his mind after he assumed the role.

Seanad sojourn

On Wednesday 29 September, the Seanad reconvened after an 11-week summer break. The following day it adjourned and did not meet again until the middle of the following week. So one day after the Upper House (which normally meets on the middle three weekdays) reconvened, the senators gifted themselves a day off the following Tuesday. Proceedings in the Upper House came to an end at 2.15pm on Thursday, 30 September, and the senators did not meet again until Wednesday, 6 October at 2.30pm. At the time, senators were eager to point out that a cabinet minister was due to address the Seanad on Tuesday 5 October, but he was forced to postpone and as a result that day's proceedings were cancelled. At a time when cutbacks are the order of the day, many view the Seanad (which Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny plans to scrap) as an endangered institution trying to fight extinction. Against that background, surely a sitting 'week' that starts on a Wednesday afternoon and ends on a Thursday afternoon appears more than a little cynical?

More Bertie than Bertie himself

Eamon Gilmore has had a great recession. A superb communicator, he has the uncanny skill of persistently tapping into the public mood of anger and despair. Labour's meteoric rise in the opinion polls has put the party in a position where it looks set for a better general election performance than the 1992 'Spring Tide', when the party won 33 seats. But Gilmore's critics argue he "has become more Bertie than Bertie himself" as he has a populist knack of telling people what they want to hear.

He doesn't want water charges, child benefit or social-welfare cuts, or tax hikes for low- and middle-income earners. That's all well and good, but we all await Labour's credible pre-budget submission.

Political 'chicanery'

The Department of Education has yet to spend almost half of its 2010 capital budget for school buildings. It seems bizarre that some €331m of the 2010 school building budget has still to be allocated. But this is the second year in a row that the department has failed to spend its full allocation in this area. While last week's student protests focused on third-level tuition charges, it is expected there will also be cuts in special needs assistants and larger class sizes announced in the budget.

The Department of Education claimed it did not spend the money because of falling land and building costs. Tom Parlon, director general of the Construction Industry Federation, said the failure to spend the allocated money was costing jobs in the crisis-hit construction industry. And Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd claimed the failure to spend the funds reflected "either gross incompetence or political chicanery by the government".

Four-year budget plan delay?

There was press speculation on Friday that the government was planning to reveal details of its €15bn four-year budget plan after the Donegal South- West by-election. The plan that was scheduled for publication ahead of the 25 November by-election may be delayed and no matter what the reason for the delay is, it will be perceived as an effort by tribal Fianna Fáil to better its chances in the by-election.

The pre-holiday ritual

The All Blacks rugby team do the Haka while Celtic and Liverpool soccer fans sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' before each match. Sport is brimming with examples of teams and supporters performing pre-match rituals. And Irish politics is no different. You can bet your bottom government bond that the Dáil will perform its pre-holiday ritual before the Christmas break.

It works like clockwork. Just as the Dáil is set to go into summer or Christmas recess, the opposition leaders stand up in the Dáil chamber and vent their anger that politicians are going to take such a long break at a time of national emergency. They call for the Dáil to return to business a week earlier in the "national interest" and request a vote on the issue, safe in the knowledge that the government has the numbers to win the vote. The opposition inevitably loses and the House gets another lengthy break. After the recent October bank holiday weekend, the Dáil resumed on the Wednesday morning instead of later that afternoon. The fact that this was seen as unusual tells its own story.