Thursday 8 December 2016

The top three issues facing each new Minister

Published 11/05/2016 | 14:04

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

The big issues waiting for each of our new ministers:

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Minister for Health Simon Harris

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1.       Waiting lists will have to be tackled in the short-term and some sort of faith in the health system restored.

2.       The problems in our Accident and Emergency departments are long established but previous ministers have failed to find a solution.

3.       Under the agreement with Fianna Fáil, the Government must provide multi-annual budgets for health.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan

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1.       Keeping the Independents happy come budget time will be a huge task. He will have close to €1bn to play around with but the demands are big.

2.       Spreading the recovery: Fine Gael’s election campaign bombed because they overplayed the recovery. Mr Noonan’s job will be to bring the upswing beyond the Red Cow Roundabout.

3.       Brexit: While our economy is on the way up the impact of Britain leaving the EU could destabilise the situation.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

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1.       The homeless crisis is listed in the Programme for Government along side Health as the biggest challenge facing the country. The number of homeless people continues to rise so Mr Coveney will have to reverse this trend quickly.

2.       Legislation suspending water charges is due within eight weeks and the issue of water will be back on the Dáil agenda in nine months with Mr Coveney fighting the unpopular battle for their retention.

3.       Keeping tabs on NAMA will be a massive job for the incoming minister. The body is due to deliver 20,000 residential units by 2020.

Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Enda Kenny

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1.       Holding his 59 seat minority government together.

2.       The O’Higgins report is due for release in the coming days and will lead to questions his judgement on Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter.

3.       Potential leadership challenge – many within Fine Gael see Mr Kenny as a lame-duck Taoiseach. He needs to watch his back.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald

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1.       The fight against gangland crime is being lost in parts of Dublin.

2.       Some rural garda stations are now to be reopened but the problem of burglaries is still to the forefront in many communities.

3.       Garda morale: In an unprecedented move 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 Social Protection Leo Varadkar

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1.       Major pension reform is needed. Just 50pc of workers currently have pension coverage other than the State pension, which won’t’ be sustainable in an aging population.

2.       An unusual problem for Leo Varadkar may be deciding how to give back some of the money taken off people during the recession. Pensioners were not very happy with the €3 boost they received in 2013. 

3.       Wages and doles payments will both be on Mr Varadkar’s agenda. Fine Gael has committed to a Working Family Payment of €11.75 an hour which is ambitious.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross

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1.       Luas workers have already held a series of strike days and there is no end in sight. Finding a resolution will be the first major task facing Mr Ross. Pay issues are also on agenda at Irish Rail.

2.       With films such as Star Wars being made in Kerry tourism is booming – but already there are problems with rising prices and Dublin is lacking in hotels.

3.       Ireland will be at the European soccer championships in France this summer and our athletes will be at the Olympics in Rio, meaning the minister will get plenty of international travel.

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

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1.       The new minister has a target of delivering 200,000 jobs by 2020, including 135,000 outside Dublin.

2.       The Government wants to bring the unemployment rate to 6pc, while simultaneously

facilitating the return of 70,000 emigrants.

3.       An extra €300m is being provided between Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta to support Irish owned enterprises. And an extra €200m is available for the IDA to attract multinational jobs to regional town. There will be big pressure on the minister to deliver.

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton

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1.       Junior Cert Reform: Members of the ASTI are resisting changes to the junior cert with a wave of one-day strikes at close to 500 schools looming from September.

2.       Third level institutions are seriously underfunded but the Expert Group on Future Funding of Higher Education has plenty of suggestions for the minister to consider, including a loan scheme to allow for higher fees. 

3.       The Catholic Church still has a hold over the vast majority of schools but there is a growing demand for non-denominational schools which the minister will have to deal with.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan

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1.       Brexit will be top of Charlie Flanagan list in the coming months as the Irish government actively backs for the Remain campaign.

2.        Assembly elections in Northern Ireland have gone well but cross-border relations are always a priority, especially in light of recent criminal activity.

3.       As the economy continues to recovery the trade element of this portfolio will become increasing important so expect the minister to make several overseas trips.

Minister for Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe

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1.       The Lansdown Road agreement runs until 2018 but already public sector unions are mounting campaigns for increased pay. This is likely to intensify in the coming months.

2.       A capital spending plan is in place but the Programme for Government commits to a series of reviews including one of the Western Rail Corridor.

3.       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 Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone

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1.       ‘Affordable childcare’ has become a political buzzword but non government has actually delivered it. This will be a big area for the new minister to focus.

2.       Child poverty levels rose significantly during the recession with as many as one in eight children experiencing material deprivation on a daily basis.

3.      Almost one in four children on the island of Ireland are carrying excess weight and obesity is costing the State tens of millions every year. Along with the Health Minister, Katherine Zappone will have to tackle this issue.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed

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1.       Top of the agenda will be farm prices. The Irish Farmers’ Association, Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association will all be queueing up at the door of Ag House. Milk prices are in the doldrums, while tillage farmers are below the cost of production and recent weeks have seen €10-€15 wiped off a head of lamb.

2.       Another issue that has been simmering away is 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 currently weighted heavily in the interests of the factories. The new minister will be charged with chairing the Beef Forum where it is a hot topic. 

3.       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 or 1.5pc to €800m or over 7pc per annum. The continuing trade talks over TTIP and Mercosur will also raise agri-concerns.

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

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1.       Broadband must be delivered to almost every home in the country by 2022. This will be the biggest responsibility on Heather Humphrey’s plate.

2.       The Programme for Government promises a rural revival after years of decline. This 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.

3.       The 1916 commemorations are still under the remit of Ms Humphreys.

Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources Denis Naughten

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1.       The minister will have to oversee environmental policy that will chart a course towards a low carbon future. In the coming months the Oireachtas must agree Ireland’s first statutory National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan.

2.       Much of rural Ireland feels it is not being listened to on issues such as setback distances for wind farms. The new minister will need to gain community support for new forms of energy generation.

3.       Communications is also responsible for overseeing the media in Ireland, which is becoming ever more complicated as digital media grows.

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