Political Notebook: A strange way to run a Government

It is a strange way to run a Government of renewal and new politics.

It is a strange way to run a Government of renewal and new politics.

Mick Mulholland’s Political Notebook

The Department of Health, hugely important, and perhaps next to Finance in the pecking order, is being overseen, amid chaos, by two squabbling Ministers.

Dr James Reilly and his Minister of State, Roisin Shortall, are apparently not even on speaking terms.

The other Minister of State in the Department, Kathleen Lynch, appears to be keeping her head amidst the chaos. Two people in well paid jobs engaging in a public verbal brawl, while hospital waiting lists reach scary proportions, is leaving the public very unimpressed indeed.

You would not run a corner shop on that basis.

Little wonder, therefore, that there was the recent protest by people with disabilities outside Government Buildings.

On of the dreadful legacies of previous Governments, whose coffers were full to overflowing, was the failure to get areas like health and education right for ever more.

Look at us today. The health services are truly in a mess.

People in pain wait for routine treatment. In some cases, people are waiting for what could turn out to be life-saving treatment.

Against that background, it is truly incomprehensible that the Department of Health is in chaos.

Personality and policy clashes between Ministers are a frequent part of Government. But, at the end of the day, they remain behind closed doors and decisions are finally made.

A consensus is reached. One would like to think that consensus is in the best interests of the country. Not always so. Party and individual advantage can be influencing factors.

At a time of grave economic crisis, it is imperative that decisions are made with the country’s interests the priority. Wounded egos must not figure.

Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall come from different political worlds.

The senior Minister was an effective negotiator for the Irish Medical Organisation when he put together a sweet deal for his fellow GPs.

The Fianna Fail-led Government of the day should not have conceded, of course. But it was the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger and the party would go on for ever.

So the GPs, led by Dr Reilly, were pushing an open door.

Dr Reilly won a Fine Gael seat, backed Enda Kenny in the face of the challenge from Richard Bruton and was made deputy leader when Mr Kenny won the day.

Ms Shortall, a Dublin TD for 20 years, belongs to the left of the Labour party. Given her past political record, she would look with some scepticism at her Fine Gael colleagues in Government.

So a clash between the two was inevitable in some respects.

There should be no big deal about that. Fine Gael and Labour have shared power before and made a success of Government. In some cases, because of an inability to agree, they were a dreadful failure together.

The reality of Government life these days is that cutbacks are the order of the day. Hence the best must be made of available resources.

Ministers, senior and junior, must put aside personal and ideological differences and work together. If political reputations might suffer, so be it.

The country comes first.

This has not happened in the Reilly-Shortall row. The absurdity of a Minister of State speaking in a debate on a Dail motion of no confidence in her Minister, and not even mentioning his name once, is absurd.

It is also childish.

Where were the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, in all of this? They are the two political bosses of the Government.

Why did they not intervene early on and tell Dr Reilly and Ms Shortall to get their act together?

And why did they not tell them bluntly that a failure to do so would mean they could expect rapid demotion?

After all, the same Mr Kenny said at one time that he would be keeping score cards covering the performance of his Ministers. Those score cards were quickly forgotten about.

And what of Mr Gilmore? He should never had chosen the Department of Foreign Affairs, given the importance of a party leader being pretty well most of the time in Ireland to deal any tensions which surface.

Brian Cowen famously described the Department of Health as “Angola.”

And so it is, with political landmines the order of the day. If they were there in Mr Cowen’s time, they are now present in greater abundance.

But this is not a political game. We live in terrible times. The economic war is leaving a human wasteland in its hideous wake.

The Department of Health is much too important a ministry to be relegated to a political war zone. Sometimes one wonders just exactly what is happening at all in this Government.

The Taoiseach met the Pope on Saturday. There were a few friendly exchanges in this group meeting.

They were hardly going to discuss the Taoiseach’s Dail speech critical of the Vatican in front of everybody else.

Yet Mr Kenny left Rome without speaking to the media. Perhaps he thought the Reilly-Shortall row would be on the agenda.

It is a strange way indeed to run a Government of renewal and new politics.