30 Jun 2022

Political Notebook: Time for reflection for Government on second anniversary

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THE Government has passed its second anniversary with generally favourable comment.

THE Government has passed its second anniversary with generally favourable comment.

Anniversaries can be a time of celebration, but can also be an occasion to reflect on what might have been achieved or done better.

This Government could have done better on a number of issues, not least the small but important matters which creates a mood of public confidence. Breaking the pay guidelines for some Government advisers left people wondering if the Coalition was at the races at all, so to speak.

On the scale of matters, it was not hugely important.

But what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

At a time when the public are being asked to wear a hairshirt, and suffer austerity day in and day out, increasing the pay of advisers above the recommended rate sent the wrong message.

There is public annoyance, too, about the huge scale of pensions paid to retired politicians, bankers and those who worked in the higher echelons of the public service.

The Government says its hands are tied on that issue and it cannot do any more.

But, again, that is poor consolation to a people grappling with the fallout from the economic war.

Overall, however, the Government has performed reasonably well and a full and detailed assessment of its success or otherwise will be more appropriate when it has served its full term.

That judgement will be based on what it has achieved in economic terms.

The task facing Fine Gael and Labour was of huge dimensions at the start of their term in office: a broken economy, massive unemployment and huge emigration.

Promises were made during the general election which were not kept.

It was going to be Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way, with a promise that there would be a cut in the massive bank debt.

But what the late Brian Lenihan said has come to pass: a reduced interest rate and a longer period to pay the money back was as much as could be achieved.

That said, the Government has done well in what were long and detailed negotiations.

The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, have shown themselves to be solid and capable negotiators on the European front.

On social issues, the Government has done reasonably well, too.

The abortion legislation will be a critical test and will be a measure of just how strong the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is with backbenchers who have reservations on the issue.

The only reason no Government has legislated for the X case was cowardice.

Successive Governments ran away from the issue because of its potentially toxic and divisive nature.

While there are strong and sincere views held by all sides in the debate, the Government must govern at the end of the day in a manner it considers best for the Irish people.

The Magdalene laundry issue, despite an initial gaffe by Mr Kenny, was eventually handled well.

An issue that was again avoided by previous Governments was finally confronted by Mr Kenny who made a powerful and emotional Dail speech.

Similarly, he made an equally powerful speech ending for ever the close and unhealthy relationship between Church and State in this country.

Detailed assessments of the various Ministers will be more appropriate at the end of their term.

Overall, however, the Cabinet appears to be working reasonably well.

There is a good relationship between Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, although there is inevitably some tension between the rank and file TDs of both parties.

That tension could get more fraught as time moves on if the Government’s popularity remains in the doldrums and worried backbenchers look to their chances of getting back to Leinster House.

What of Mr Kenny?

He was the subject of some unfair comment when leader of the Opposition.

Sometimes there was not enough recognition of the manner in which he rebuilt Fine Gael. He showed steel, too, in fighting off a leadership challenge.

Indeed, in some respects, it was the making of him because that steel was not always evident before then.

He has great reserves of energy and is unfailingly optimistic.

However, that optimism could start to annoy people if the economy does not show significant progress during the rest of the Government’s term.

And he has to stop harping back to Fianna Fail’s time in power as a defence mechanism when under pressure to justify his Government’s performance.

That might have been understandable in the early months of the Government’s term but time has moved on.

Internationally, Mr Kenny has done well, forging good working relationships with other leaders.

Certainly he has confounded those critics who never gave him any credit at all when he led Fine Gael from the Opposition benches.

So it is fair to give Mr Kenny and his Coalition a reasonably good report card.

Nobody could expect miracles after two years, but people will need to see some relief from the grim grind of austerity over the next two years.

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