Cabinet with still much work to do
Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30
When the Government came to office in 2011 it outlined a plan to restore Ireland's financial stability and return the economy to growth so that the country could successfully exit the EU/IMF bailout on schedule and with its international standing intact. In that regard, the Coalition has been successful, as any fair-minded citizen would have to acknowledge.
This time last year, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny announced a Cabinet reshuffle which was designed to draw a line under the annus horribilis that followed the departure of the EU institutions. Five new ministers were appointed and the number of women ministers was doubled to four. Mr Kenny also used the opportunity to set out an agenda for the economic and social renewal of the country. In this regard, however, the Government has been less successful, which supports a view that the process of rebuilding a country is far more difficult than the implementation of measures designed to stabilise an economy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of healthcare. Health Minister Leo Varadkar was handed the task of implementing Government health policy, key aspects of which he has substantially jettisoned. With more success than his predecessor James Reilly, however, Varadkar has embarked on a political process to extract additional required funding to plug glaring holes in the system as it currently exists. For all his undoubted ability and communication skills, Varadkar has also adopted a bedside manner which portrays him at times as an interested observer rather than as the minister with the task of implementing the fundamental reforms required to elevate the service to a consistently functional standard. His honeymoon period has ended. That said, the Health Minister must receive full cooperation to implement what remains of the Government's health policy, something which is in the interest of every citizen.
Other new ministers have also proved themselves adept, to varying degrees, in rising to the challenge, most notably the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, who has implemented significant changes in his area, including the introduction of measures which have led to a marked fall in the number of road deaths so far this year, an outcome to be warmly welcomed.
On a broader level, the economy has shown itself to have a number of fundamental factors, not least high levels of productivity and a relatively flexible labour market, which have helped the country deal relatively well with fiscal austerity compared to other euro area member states, most notably Greece.
Notwithstanding general optimism about the future, there are darkening clouds on the horizon, however: the International Monetary Fund last week downgraded its forecast for global growth and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned against "chronic" low pay and job insecurity, issues which affect many of Ireland's newly employed who keenly await the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission.
As events at the Banking Inquiry have again highlighted, important challenges must be taken to rebuild the political and policy-making institutions of the country so as to avoid the types of mistakes that contributed to the economic crisis. It is disappointing that the Government has not yet fully risen to this challenge. In summary, then, and to coin a phrase: A lot done. More to do.