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Sunday 11 December 2016

From Euro 2016 to Brexit: The big issues facing our new ministers

Published 10/05/2016 | 02:30

The new Fine Gael Cabinet pictured at Aras an Uachtarain after receiving their seals of office
The new Fine Gael Cabinet pictured at Aras an Uachtarain after receiving their seals of office

We look at the major tasks facing the members of the new minority government.

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Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Enda Kenny - Holding his 59-seat minority Government together.

  • The O'Higgins report is due for release and will lead to questions over his judgement on Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter.
  • Potential leadership challenge.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald

  • The fight against gangland crime is being lost in parts of Dublin.
  • Some rural Garda stations are now to be reopened, but the problem of burglaries is still a live issue.
  • Garda morale: members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors are preparing to march on the Dáil in uniform to protest about pay and conditions.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan

  • Keeping the Independents happy come Budget time will be a huge task.
  • Spreading the recovery: Mr Noonan's job will be to bring the upswing beyond the Red Cow roundabout.
  • Brexit: the impact of Britain leaving the EU could destabilise our recovery.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton

  • Junior Cert reform: Members of the ASTI are resisting changes to the Junior Cert, with a wave of one-day strikes looming.
  • Under-funding of third-level education.
  • The Catholic Church still has a hold over the vast majority of schools, but there is a growing demand for non-denominational schools.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

  • The homelessness crisis is listed in the Programme for Government alongside Health as the country's biggest challenge.
  • Legislation suspending water charges is due within eight weeks, with Mr Coveney fighting the battle for their retention.
  • Keeping tabs on Nama. The body is due to deliver 20,000 residential units by 2020.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar

  • Major pension reform is needed. Just 50pc of workers currently have pension coverage other than the State pension.
  • Leo Varadkar may need to decide how to give back some of the money that was taken off people during the recession. Pensioners were not very happy with the €3 boost that they received in 2013.
  • Wages and dole payments. Fine Gael has committed to a Working Family Payment of €11.75 an hour, which is ambitious.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan

  • Brexit will be top of Charlie Flanagan's list in the coming months.
  • Cross-border relations are always a priority.
  • As the economy continues to recover, the trade element of this portfolio will become increasingly important.

Minister for Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe

  • The Lansdowne Road agreement runs until 2018, but public sector unions are already campaigning for increased pay.
  • A capital spending plan is in place, but the Programme for Government also commits to a series of reviews, including one of the Western Rail Corridor.
  • Budgets are now to be split 2:1 in favour of spending over tax cuts - but Mr Donohoe will then have to balance that between urban and rural output.

Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys

  • Broadband must be delivered to almost every home by 2022.
  • The Programme for Government includes a focus on local services, roads and tourism, all of which must come to fruition - or some of the Independents backing the Government will quit.
  • 1916 commemorations are under Ms Humphreys's remit.

Minister for Health Simon Harris

  • Waiting lists will have to be tackled in the short-term.
  • Accident and Emergency departments are still a major problem.
  • Under the agreement with Fianna Fáil, the Government must provide multi-annual budgets for health.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed

  • Top of the agenda will be farm prices.
  • The fractious debate over the beef price grid. Farmers have been calling for a review of the way cattle are priced in factory, as they allege it is weighted heavily in favour of the factories.
  • Brexit is also an issue that may hit agriculture hard, with Teagasc warning Brexit could mean a reduction in the value of Irish agri-food exports of anything from €150m to €800m per annum. Trade talks over TTIP and Mercosur are also of concern.

Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources Denis Naughten

  • The minister will have to chart a course towards a low-carbon future.
  • Much of rural Ireland feels it is not being listened to on issues such as setback distances for wind farms.
  • Communications is also responsible for overseeing the media in Ireland.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross

  • Finding a resolution to the Luas dispute will be the first major task facing Mr Ross. Pay issues are also on the agenda at Irish Rail.
  • Tourism is booming - but there are problems with rising prices, and Dublin is lacking in hotels.
  • Ireland will be at the European soccer championships in France this summer and our athletes will be at the Olympics in Rio, meaning plenty of international travel.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O'Connor

  • The new minister has a target of delivering 200,000 jobs by 2020, including 135,000 outside of Dublin.
  • The Government wants to bring the unemployment rate down to 6pc, while simultaneously facilitating the return of 70,000 emigrants.
  • An extra €300m is being provided between Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta to support Irish-owned enterprises.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone

  • 'Affordable childcare' will be a big area for the new minister to focus on.
  • Child poverty levels rose significantly during the recession.
  • Almost one in four children in Ireland is carrying excess weight, and obesity is costing the State tens of millions every year.

Irish Independent

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