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Friday 22 August 2014

Shane Coleman: Highs and lows of Enda Kenny's first 1,000 days as our Taoiseach

Published 03/12/2013 | 02:30

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AT midnight last night, Enda Kenny completed his 1,000th day as Taoiseach – a landmark for any leader. John Bruton didn't get to 1,000 days in the top job. Albert Reynolds did, but only just. The same, sadly, holds for Kenny's hero, John F Kennedy. So how should Kenny's 1,000 days in Government Buildings be assessed? We examine the highs and the lows.

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Six of the best.

1) It's the economy, stupid. There's no question the economy is in a better place than in March 2011. We're a fortnight from leaving the bailout; the Budget deficit is going in the right direction; and, while the economy is only barely growing, it is creating jobs – 58,000 in the past 12 months. Unemployment has dropped to 12.8pc. Consumer confidence is at a six-year high.

2) Is feidir linn. Don't underestimate the importance to the national psyche of having a Taoiseach who smiles, has a can-do attitude and doesn't look like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Brian Cowen was hugely unlucky, but you never felt he enjoyed being Taoiseach. Kenny relishes it.

3) 'Prom'-ised you a miracle. Luck has played a big part in the better deals that the Government has got on the bailout terms – for example the interest rate cut on the back of Greece. But the Government deserves credit for pulling off the deal on the promissory note which delivered big savings for the Exchequer.

4) Cherishing the children of the nation equally. Two speeches, two extraordinary high points. Kenny's speech in the wake of the Cloyne report strongly criticising the Vatican was hugely well received. His apology to the Magdalene women showed Kenny at his best: empathetic, compassionate and sincere.

5) The tough get going. The last time Fine Gael and Labour were in power during a recession, in the 1980s, they bottled the tough decisions. This time, they've (mostly) taken them. Arguably, they'd little choice because of the troika, but they've still paid a high political price for doing the right thing.

6) The 'X' Taoiseach. This Government – prompted, it should be said, by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar – finally, after 20 years, legislated for the X case. It wasn't easy, particularly for Fine Gael, but Kenny was resolute and determined in seeing it through.

And Six of the worst.

1) Missed opportunity. The Programme for Government talks of a "Democratic Revolution", but the Coalition has been far from radical. The presence of the troika offered an opportunity for real reform. Instead, vested interests (in the health sector, legal profession, quangos) have been largely untouched.

There has been some political reform, but the twin problems of a powerless Dail and an electoral system that leads to parish-pump politics have been ignored.

2) Austerity fatigue. Yes, the Government has hit the troika targets. But there is an argument it should have been bolder, particularly in its first Budget, by putting a serious dent in the Budget deficit.

Instead, the Coalition has arguably dragged out austerity – in the process affecting consumer confidence – by ignoring the advice of the Fiscal Council and barely complying with the terms laid down by the troika.

3) Promises, promises. So many promises in opposition, so many undelivered in government. "Not another cent to the banks"; burning bondholders; "Labour's way or Frankfurt's way"; maintaining child benefit; abolishing third-level charges; the end of upward only rent reviews; a major state asset disposal programme. The list is a long one. The chronically slow pace in addressing mortgage arrears/ personal debt is a further black mark.

4) Debt burden. The Coalition got a deal on the prom note but our debt levels remain huge and the prospect of a retrospective recapitalisation of our banks, via the ESM, looks further away than ever. This is despite the Government claiming it had delivered a "game changer" at the EU summit 18 months ago.

5) In sickness and in health. The Coalition took a vow to transform the health service, so far, so little progress.

6) Don't believe the hype. There's a touch of the self-proclaimed saviours of the nation about the Coalition at times. It's hard to stomach and ignores the fact that, from the opposition benches, they endorsed the very budgetary policies that caused the mess in the first place. Plus, the fiscal strategy, it has adopted is a continuation of the Cowen/Lenihan approach.

A little more humility wouldn't go astray, particularly in the Dail where the shouting down and heckling of both main opposition parties is a far too regular occurrence.

Shane Coleman is political editor of Newstalk 106-108FM.

Irish Independent

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