News Analysis

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Paul Moran: Clear winners and losers in the Cabinet battle for poll position

Paul Moran

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

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The final survey of 2012 shows Reilly in a rut while Varadkar's honesty and frankness score highly, writes Paul Moran

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In our last poll of this year, Millward Brown puts the performance of government ministers under the spotlight and asks about the public's attitudes to the future of the Seanad.

In evaluating ministers' effectiveness, there have been clear winners and losers.

Joan Burton is seen as the most effective minister, and has received a consistently positive appraisal. Given that many of the harshest decisions taken to date have directly affected her department, this is a charmed existence. It seems some of the electorate have decoupled her from those decisions to a degree – she is seen more as an unwilling messenger of bad news than the architect of it.

Michael Noonan slips a couple of points, but is still endorsed by one in eight people – a remarkable performance given that his department is the instigator of our fiscal correction. Contrast this with the other minister controlling the purse strings, Brendan Howlin: the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is endorsed by just two per cent. In terms of communications, it is illuminating.

The Taoiseach gets the nod from 13 per cent. For some, the optimism and energy he brings to his post is welcome; for others, he is less than inspiring.

Leo Varadkar has been vocal of late, and this is reflected in his highest approval rating so far. His unscripted musings have had a tendency to cause consternation among some within government circles, but by and large it is an honesty and frankness that plays well with the public.

Frances Fitzgerald, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, enters the list for the first time (seven per cent endorsement). The passing of the Children's Referendum undoubtedly boosted her approval rating, and she has not appeared to suffer as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling on the referendum campaign.

Moving on to those considered least effective, James Reilly's annus horribilis draws to an end with three in 10 nominating him as the poorest performing minister. While the Department of Health is often referred to as Angola, the issue with Dr Reilly seems often not to relate to departmental landmines, but to ones he has created himself.

From the embarrassment of his name appearing on a debt defaulters' list in July (regardless of the circumstance), to his relationship with Roisin Shortall and the primary care centre affair, it seems trouble is attracted to him.

With the upcoming abortion legislation falling largely under his department's remit, there is no doubt a desire in Government Buildings to have all ministers focused. In addition, with health being at the coalface of the economic crisis, now is the time for Dr Reilly to be seen to step up to the mark.

At 35 per cent, dissatisfaction with his handling of his brief peaks among 45- to 54-year-olds and older people – those most likely to interact with the health services.

Mr Kenny also suffers a setback. Nearly one in five (19 per cent) feel he has been the least effective since coming to power. This represents a more than doubling of dissatisfaction from the eight per cent he received 10 months ago. Those more likely to nominate him are aged 25 to 34 (nearly three in 10, 28 per cent) or from a less affluent background (25 per cent).

Illustrating the fickle nature of the electorate, Phil Hogan (eight per cent) is ranked the fourth least effective minister. However, this is nearly half the negative endorsement he received seven months ago at the height of the household charge and septic tanks debate.

While Ms Burton has the highest approval rating, she is not without detractors – nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) feels she is ineffective, with DEs (lower paid workers and those on benefits) less enamoured with her (12 per cent).

Moving on to the Seanad, 53 per cent want it abolished. This figure has remained broadly consistent. Three in 10 want it reformed, with a mere seven per cent saying it is fine as it is. It is clear that we want change.

Senator Feargal Quinn's welcoming of a debate on the upper house's future this week may well be a tacit acknowledgement that the Seanad, as it stands, is in mortal danger.

As we look to 2013, there are many challenges ahead for this administration, with divisive battles to be fought. Mr Kenny will need a steady hand to steer government policy through these choppy waters, but he will need luck as well.

Paul Moran is an Associate Director at Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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