Fionnan Sheahan: No government will kick its own record, but a Coalition marking its own homework results in a serious credibility problem
Published 08/03/2012 | 05:00
The Taoiseach standing on the steps of Government Buildings with a report on the progress of measures in the Programme for Government is nothing new.
The Taoiseach facing questions about the veracity, authenticity and objectivity of this report is also nothing new.
Indeed, there was a sense of deja vu around Merrion Street yesterday.
The sight of the Taoiseach and Tanaiste arriving out to pat themselves on the back for their achievements after a year in office -- while ignoring all the broken general election promises -- was all too reminiscent of Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney in 2003.
Back then, the report in May 2003 was launched amid a cloud of hostility against a government in its second term that appeared to have conned its way back into office with an increased mandate -- even if the opposition against it wasn't up to much.
Nearly a decade later and the process remains the same.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny argued the production of the report had changed because it was being driven by him.
"It is an honest appraisal of what we have achieved in the first year of office and all the work still left to do."
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the difference was no government had taken up office in "the kind of difficult circumstances" it took up a year ago.
"We are not making any exaggerated claims," he said.
The first sign of any criticism on the Government's failings came from Mr Gilmore's comments on mortgage debt. He said there had been "difficulties" and "frustrations", areas where the Coalition wanted to achieve but couldn't or where progress was "frustratingly slow".
"If I had to point to one in particular, I would say that dealing with the issue of distressed mortgages has proven far more complex and involved than we anticipated, and progress has been frustratingly slow," he said.
Mr Kenny argued the Government was not looking for gold medals, it wasn't a case of blowing trumpets or saying it had turned corners.
He also admitted the Coalition had not achieved enough on the mortgage debt and accepted it had failed on reforming upward-only rent reviews and in losing the Oireachtas inquiries referendum.
The document itself sheds little new light on the implementation of many policies, where the priorities lie for the next 12 months or where the focus has shifted.
The report mistakes activity for achievement.
To be truly honest, the Government could have taken the template of the original Programme for Government and gone through it line by line, explaining where matters now stand.
A line in the original programme that would now be difficult to justify would be: "There will be no more golden handshakes for public servants that have not delivered."
No government is going to be honest enough to kick its own record, but the Coalition effectively marking its own homework results in a serious credibility problem.
The abject failure of Mr Kenny to hold ministers to account also falls well short of what he promised in opposition.
Over the past five years he has argued he would bring a new form of accountability to power, where ministers would have respect for their office and subject them to higher standards than what went before.
In 2007, Mr Kenny launched a five-point plan for accountable government.
He promised "Fine Gael will sack ministers who waste public money" and said there would be clear ministerial "priorities and targets".
"Each year the Taoiseach and Tanaiste will set a number of strategic priorities for ministers based on the agreed Programme for Government.
"The Taoiseach and Tanaiste will hold ministers accountable for these priorities in an open fashion."
But when he came under questioning at the time about what criteria would be applied in the sacking of ministers, Mr Kenny was found wanting. He had to be repeatedly asked on what grounds he would sack a minister and refused to be pinned down.
He mistook soundbite for substance.
Mr Kenny continued this theme through to last year's general election, where again he continually claimed ministers would produce the goods or be replaced.
After the general election, he promised the nation "report cards", live on the 'Late Late Show'.
But this was only a soundbite. What Mr Kenny had in mind all along was just an appraisal of the Programme for Government.
He met with each of his ministers this year to discuss the implementation of their aspects of the programme, but won't say who he feels is performing or not up to scratch.
None of Mr Kenny's ministers has acted in a manner that would demand their sacking so far. But his failure to critically appraise anybody's performance doesn't instill confidence that he will act if and when required.
The last Fine Gael Taoiseach, John Bruton, often spoke of governing with "openness, integrity and accountability" and working behind a pane of glass.
Following the upheaval in this country over recent years, the same pledge from Mr Kenny would be timely.
After the promise of entering an era of 'new politics', the Taoiseach only delivered more of the same yesterday.