Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Cabinet report card

The Government is finding the going tough after putting through its first Budget. Heading into the new year after 10 months in office since Fine Gael and the Labour Party came to power on March 9, how are ministers faring? Political Editor Fionnan Sheahan continues his examination of their record over the past three months and assesses if they are taking the tough decisions needed to get the country out of the current economic crisis

Published 02/01/2012 | 05:00

The Government is finding the going tough after putting through its first Budget. Heading into the new year after 10 months in office since Fine Gael and the Labour Party came to power on March 9, how are ministers faring? Political Editor Fionnan Sheahan continues his examination of their record over the past three months and assesses if they are taking the tough decisions needed to get the country out of the current economic crisis

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enda kenny

Taoiseach, 60

Constituency: Mayo

Reputation so far: Energiser Bunny

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Standing over Budget 2012.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• State of the Nation address.

Difficult decisions coming:

• Whether or not to hold an EU referendum.

Assessment: The honeymoon came to an abrupt end with Budget 2012. His State of the Nation address wound up being a wasted opportunity, adding little to the equation -- even if he did get brownie points for actually doing it. His handling of the EU Summit negotiations was highly questionable, trying to get a carrot thrown into the mix at the last minute. All told, though, the Coalition is proceeding smoothly so he gets credit there.

Grade: C- All right and so far, so good, but big European challenges to come.

Eamon Gilmore

Tanaiste, 55

Constituency: Dun Laoghaire

Reputation so far: Arch conciliator

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Closing the Irish Embassy to the Vatican.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Taking up the chairmanship of the OSCE for 2012.

Difficult decisions coming:

• Halting the defections from the party backbenches.

Assessment: Improved performance without really being a commanding figure. Showed bottle in facing down Willie Penrose's attempted rebellion over the closure of his local army barracks and didn't bat an eyelid with the departures of Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty. But it has put a focus on the perception that not all the Labour Party is on board for the budgetary measures to be implemented over the coming years.

Grade: C+ Benefits from Michael D's election and holding budget line.

Brendan Howlin

Public Spending Minister, 54

Constituency: Wexford

Reputation so far: A lot of pomp.

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Budget 2012 -- particularly the raft of cuts.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Changes to the rollout of the Budget.

Difficult decisions coming:

• Delivering returns from the public sector reform programme.

Assessment: The Comprehensive Spending Review appears to have added little enough that wasn't known already about the individual departments. Instead it came down to good old-fashioned budgetary negotiations. The public sector reform agenda is still stuttering along with little apparent appetite to overhaul Croke Park. The handling of the referendum on Oireachtas inquiries was appalling.

Grade: C The referendum loss drags him back.

Dr James Reilly

Health Minister, 61

Constituency: Dublin North

Reputation so far: The boy who cried wolf.

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Budget 2012 -- cuts to frontline services and private beds cost to rise.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Drafting of legislation for new HSE governance.

Difficult decisions coming:

• Managing budgets and frontline health service cutbacks.

Assessment: His behaviour in the run up to the Budget was amateur hour. The scaremongering did nobody any good, costing him credibility and the confidence of colleagues. The antics also cast a spotlight on his ability to carry out the health service reforms and cutbacks required. Chopping and changing positions doesn't help either.

Grade: F Flunked his first big test, with an astonishing display of political naivety.

Ruairi Quinn

Education Minister, 65

Constituency: Dublin South-East

Reputation so far: Get on with the task, regardless.

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Budget 2012 -- college charges increase and disadvantaged schools teacher cuts.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Maintaining the pupil-teacher ratio

Difficult decisions coming:

• Introducing the cuts in teacher numbers in deserving, disadvantaged schools.

Assessment: Contrasted with the ministers in the other high-spending, social service departments, he made little fuss over the cuts he had to impose. The higher college fees grabbed the headlines, but the disadvantaged school teacher reductions were uglier. And not forgetting the increase in school bus charges. He appears to be just forgetting about pre-election promises.

Grade: B- His experience is telling.

Alan Shatter

Justice Minister, 60

Constituency: Dublin South

Style: Legal eagles' worst nightmare

Unpopular decisions taken:

• Budget 2012 -- closing down garda stations.

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011.

Difficult decisions coming:

• Passing reforms of the legal profession.

Assessment: The IMF's pin-up boy arising from his reforms of the legal profession. He is running rings around the legal eagles, whose efforts to counteract him have been clueless. Reforming zeal is earning him support around the cabinet table. Dropped the legislation on upward-only rent reviews, where his stance didn't pass legal hurdles. Got through judges pay vote, but his arrogant approach to the Oireachtas powers vote did cost the Coalition.

Grade: B- Has to take his share of the blame for the referendum loss.

Phil Hogan

Environment Minister, 50

Constituency: Carlow-Kilkenny

Reputation so far: Cute and straight up

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• €100 household charge

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Proposed changes to party funding

Difficult decisions coming:

• Deciding when the property tax and water tax will happen

Assessment: After announcing the €100 household charge in the summer, he seemed to get a bit taken aback by the furore and rebellion caused before Christmas when the legislation for the payment was actually being introduced. Still, he didn't falter. But he's less clear on when the full-scale property charges and water taxes will come into effect, with the suggestion the charge will only last one year.

Grade: B- As the household charge stood up

Richard Bruton

Enterprise Minister, 57

Constituency: Dublin North-Central

Reputation so far: Well-meaning policy wonk

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• New law on wage agreements for low paid workers

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• New law on agency workers

Difficult decisions coming:

• Making the jobs plan relevant in a difficult economic climate

Assessment: Despite Labour Party objections and his own awkward handling, the JLC reforms are on the way and will ultimately result in lower wages in the sectors affected. His difficulty will be selling measures to increase competitiveness at a time when the domestic and international economy is still stuck in a rut. His plans to assist small- and medium-sized companies won't deliver overnight success so it's going to be a rough year all round on the jobs front.

Grade: C Plugging away.

Pat Rabbitte

Communications Minister,61

Constituency: Dublin South-West

Reputation so far: Solid presence

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Part-privatisation of the ESB

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Changes to insulation schemes

Difficult decisions coming:

• Semi-state sector restructuring and sell-offs

Assessment: Got his groove back with the tricky decision to part-privatise the ESB. Even began showing a bit of interest in his portfolio with the changes to funding for insulation schemes, moving away from subsidising the middle classes to do up their houses and sensibly focusing more on poorer people. Still, he's not exactly a revolutionary in the area. But he is acclaimed as a solidifying presence within the Cabinet, bolstering the Labour Party team on ministers.

Grade: C+ Showing a bit of interest in his own.

Dr Leo Varadkar

Transport Minister, 32

Constituency: Dublin West

Reputation so far: Cautious

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Slashing capital spending, putting the brakes on many projects

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Rationalisation of state agencies

Difficult decisions coming:

• Breaking up CIE and making the airports independent

Assessment: After 15 years of spending, which has transformed the country's road network, he's now having to deal with being in charge of an area with no funding available. At least he's facing up to the task and openly admitting projects won't be proceeding. Spreading the thin resources in the tourism sector relatively well, but his dopey comment about the Budget being so easy that families will be able to afford to take a holiday certainly didn't do him any favours.

Grade: C+ Needs to keep his foot out of his mouth.

Simon Coveney

Agriculture Minister (39)

Constituency: Cork South-Central

Reputation so far: The quiet achiever

Unpopular decisions taken:

• Budget 2012 - Cuts to REPS and reduction to Disadvantaged Area Scheme

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Maintaining funding for the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme

Difficult decisions coming:

• Ongoing trade talks between the EU and South America

Assessment: Quietly making a really good impression. He's making hay while the sun shines. Budget 2012 was almost a giveaway budget for farmers with Michael Noonan, in particular, sprinkling his speech with goodies. He was surprisingly slow on the delayed acceptance of a pay cut in Coillte.

Grade: B One to watch

Joan Burton

Social Protection (62)

Constituency: Dublin West

Reputation so far: The Minister for Self Protection

Unpopular decisions taken in past three months:

• Budget 2012 -- cuts to some child benefit rates, fuel allowance, jobseekers' benefit

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Sticking to basic social welfare rates

Difficult decisions coming:

• Bringing in single payments and child benefit reforms

Assessment: Her handling of the budget deliberations showed poor judgment and risks, costing her in the long run as she annoyed colleagues. Rather than accepting the disability payment for teens was wrong, she compounded the problem by seeking to distance herself from it.

Grade: E Bad budget performance

Frances Fitzgerald

Children's Minister (55)

Constituency: Dublin Mid-West

Reputation: Conscientious

Unpopular decisions taken:

• Cuts to family resources centres and counselling schemes

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Keeping funding for universal free pre-school year

Difficult decisions coming:

• Securing the right date for the children's rights referendum

Assessment: Continues to ensure the Government has a consistent voice at full cabinet level on child protection issues, again particularly strong on the publication of further sections of the Cloyne Report. Plans to reshape child protection are in the pipeline. Outcome of children's rights referendum is make or break.

Grade: C But 2012 is key year

JImmy deenihan

Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister (58)

Constituency: Kerry North-West Limerick

Reputation so far: Photo-friendly

Unpopular decisions taken:

• The ongoing turf cutting compensation row

Decisions taken with no cost to taxpayer:

• Publication of the National Biodiversity Plan 2011-2016

Difficult decisions coming:

• Advancing preparations for the 1916 anniversary

Assessment: Liked by fellow ministers for his work ethic. The turf cutting row still drones on but it's really just a case of management at this stage. From the Budget, his department didn't do too badly, given the climate, and he put out the right signals about keeping heritage sites open.

Grade: C+ Doing all right

Irish Independent

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