Friday 30 September 2016

A political outsider has a better chance of selling reforms - very unpopular ones

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

'The great intractable problem of Irish politics over the past 25 years has been the health service. And it’s hard to be confident that anybody in the current Dáil has the answers.' Photo: Getty (stock photo)
'The great intractable problem of Irish politics over the past 25 years has been the health service. And it’s hard to be confident that anybody in the current Dáil has the answers.' Photo: Getty (stock photo)
'We don’t just need a government, we need a good government.'

Today marks the 54th day without a government. A day for every card in a full deck, with the jokers included - the past eight weeks have demonstrated no shortage of jokers.

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To be fair, with no party with more than 50 seats and 10 different groupings in the 32nd Dáil, it was never going to be straightforward or quick. But enough is enough.

We need a government and it's time for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Greens and, particularly, the Independents - whose indecision appears to be final - to get the finger out.

Yes, it's challenging. But the people have spoken with the make-up of the new(ish) Dáil and it's time our elected representatives do their business or get off the pot.

However, there's also a worry everyone - particularly Enda Kenny - will be so happy to finally get a government, that thoughts about its actual effectiveness will be secondary.

Because we don't just need a government, we need a good government.

To that end, the involvement of Labour and the Greens (and, if they came down from their Ivory Tower, the Social Democrats as well) would be preferable.

There would still be a need for outside support from Fianna Fáil. But, with at least 61 guaranteed votes, it would allow Fine Gael to do business only with those Independents with a genuine interest in national, as opposed to parish pump, politics.

Labour needs to quickly decide what it's going to do.

Sorry, guys, but the country can't hang around for you all to engage in the kind of public soul-searching that you suddenly seem to be intent on engaging in for the next few weeks. That's what the last 54 days were for.

However, even if Labour and, by consequence, the Greens do agree to join with five or six Independents, Kenny should go even further in thinking outside the box.

The great intractable problem of Irish politics over the past 25 years has been the health service.

And it's hard to be confident that anybody in the current Dáil has the answers. Many fine politicians - Harney, Varadkar, Howlin, Noonan and Martin - have tried and ended up against a brick wall.

But what if Kenny opted to go outside the bubble to ring the changes in health? He could do so via a Seanad nomination - as happened in 1981 when Garret FitzGerald made James Dooge both a senator and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

There has been some suggestion that Kenny might pick a junior housing minister from his Seanad nominees. But a junior minister doesn't have the clout to get things done.

And although the housing crisis undoubtedly needs to be addressed, it doesn't require an external expert plucked from outside Leinster House.

Health, on the other hand, might. The reality is that it is impossible to bring the necessary improvements to the health service without standing on a lot of toes - particularly the toes of those working in our hospitals.

Somebody from outside the political arena would have a better chance of selling these reforms, some of which will be initially hugely unpopular.

It's guaranteed that any plan involving change would be resisted, ending up in industrial action if persevered with. In that context, the ability to convince the general public of the overall merits of the plan would be hugely important.

And there is a greater chance of somebody free of political baggage, or perceived electoral motivations, doing so than an elected TD - particularly given the low level of trust in politicians right now. Look for example at the key role played by Professor Tom Keane in getting acceptance for the radical, but not universally popular, Cancer Services re-organisation a few years back.

In this scenario, the new minister wouldn't have to worry about being re-elected. This would be a one-term mission to do whatever had to be done to reform the health service. It wouldn't be easy or straightforward - far from it.

And it might be difficult trying to find somebody with the necessary skills and willingness to take on the challenge. Michael O'Leary is a business genius, but he probably wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. And, even if he did, he would be seen as coming with a particular agenda. It wouldn't work.

Donegal-born Gerry Robinson - who ran hugely successful businesses in the UK for many years - could be ideal.

Almost a decade ago, his three-part BBC series 'Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?' was a fascinating insight into the problems faced by one Yorkshire hospital.

The parallels with Irish hospitals were unmistakable. Robinson took on the vested interests and brought them around: the combination of his business acumen, interpersonal skills and political nous could be ideal for the job.

And what a statement of intent it would be from Enda Kenny. A message that the old, jaded way of doing things was over; that radical reform and progress has taken precedent over jobs for the boys and (ballot) box-ticking.

Why not? If we're going to have so-called new politics, let's really have new politics. Who knows, it might just work.

Shane Coleman presents the Sunday Show on Newstalk.com at 10am

Irish Independent

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