Cabinet returns with much to do
Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30
Government ministers return to their desks this week with a General Election on their minds but with an array of difficult issues outstanding which should be prioritised over and above party political considerations.
The first Cabinet meeting since July will be held on Wednesday in an atmosphere of somewhat strained relations between the Coalition partners but at a time of relative economic health.
Ministers are expected to agree a broad outline for Budget 2016, an event that will signal the countdown to the election. The Finance Minister, Michael Noonan has said that the Government will be in a position to introduce expansionary budgets between now and 2020, if it is deemed prudent to do so and, of course, if it has been re-elected and is in such a position.
The key word here is "prudent": with an estimated €1.5bn at its disposal, Budget 2016 will be less benign than last year, but "generous" compared to the austerity years since 2008.
But the Budget should not contribute to the boom and bust economic cycles that have harmed the economy and have had such negative social consequences, the impact of which will take generations to unravel.
There was further good news in relation to the economy last week, which tends to confirm what has become evident on the High Street - the country has indeed emerged from crisis but must now set about rebuilding a new society with vigour and zeal.
Across the country the numbers at work are now rising at their fastest rate since the crash; last week it also emerged that the rate of emigration significantly slowed.
That is the good news which is most welcome, but the Government must not and can not afford to rest on those achievements and free-wheel to the election.
The latest crisis in Northern Ireland, arising from the discovery of a still existent Provisional IRA, presents the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald and Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan with a difficulty which will require careful handling.
However, in this regard the Government must set its face against the type of political fudge which has bedevilled the peace process since its inception and must use this opportunity to ensure that the parties to the Good Friday Agreement adhere to the letter and spirit of that agreement. If that requires a recall for the International Monitoring Commission to again report on the troublesome activities of the PIRA then so be it. The era of appeasement and the blind eye is over.
There are other outstanding issues which will also require urgent attention, not least the housing crisis which has contributed so significantly to the unacceptable level of homelessness which also exists, particularly in Dublin and larger urban centres.
Similarly, the Government must be prepared to take a lead in formulating a comprehensive response to the human tragedy that is the migration crisis throughout Europe.
As was evident from the water charges protests yesterday, this contentious issue is also far from resolved, but the Government should tread warily for fear of making a bad situation worse as it has tended to do. That said, it should not shirk its responsibility to introduce a fair and equitable system to manage the country's water and waste water services.