Challenges ahead for both Howlin and Kelly
Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30
Whether he sought it or not, Brendan Howlin has been given a coronation and the young pretender, Alan Kelly, has been cast aside for now. In 'Henry V', Shakespeare put it thus: "Nice customs curtsy to great kings."
Whether such nice customs are best suited to the ultra-democratic Labour Party and its 4,000 members remains to be seen.
History has plenty of examples showing how weak emperors make for challenging envoys; so for this and other reasons, Mr Howlin had better make a powerful impression in the coming weeks in order to prove himself.
With Mr Howlin's years of experience at the heart of government, displaying skill and quiet authority, few will dispute that he has earned the right to lead. The doubt enters only as to whether his assent through affirmation, as opposed to an open contest, was wise. This may rankle with many within Labour, and it needn't have done so.
Rebuilding the party - which bore disproportionate blame, unfairly, for harsh coalition decisions enforced by Fianna Fáil's earlier mishandling of the economy - will be a marathon, not a sprint. It will require stamina and a 10-year commitment, as it is unlikely to be completed within the term of one Dáil.
Mr Howlin said he recognised that Mr Kelly's heart was in the party and of the party. Mr Kelly's energy and uncompromising style, combined with the guile and ring-craft of Mr Howlin, would make for a formidable team.
All the same, Mr Kelly has a right to feel aggrieved for not getting the backing of another TD to second his nomination. However, the wiser course for him would be to look ahead, as that is where his future is, as opposed to looking back in anger.
Medic recruitment ban is terrible news for patients
A further alarming manifestation of the dysfunctional nature of our health services has emerged with the news of what amounts to a freeze on the recruitment of doctors and nurses to hospitals.
If Health Minister Simon Harris harboured any misguided expectations of a honeymoon period, they will have been washed away in a sea of troubles.
The recruitment bar can only lead to more congestion, more delays, and more heartache for patients and over-worked staff. Fianna Fáil has signalled that it will not support the cornerstone of Mr Harris's health policy, which is based on setting up hospital trusts. He favours working towards a long-term solution, as opposed to stumbling about in search of a quick fix. Fianna Fáil also opposes the dismantling of the HSE and universal health insurance, all of which are part of Fine Gael's platform.
But the HSE is already facing a €500m overspend that has to be managed. Even so, a ban on the hiring of staff until a workforce plan can be approved will further hurt patients.
The system desperately needs specialists.
Dave Hughes of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the block is irresponsible.
All parties have accepted that the current health system is failing badly and that only consensus and cross-party agreement can break the cycle of lurching from crisis to emergency. But so far the only consensus that has emerged is that, politically and culturally, they appear congenitally incapable of agreeing on anything.