Sorry, Leo, but the buck stops with you on health
Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30
Such are the intrinsic difficulties of managing the seemingly ungovernable Irish health service, we should extend a wide margin of appreciation to those chosen few who accept the poisoned chalice of Irish politics and agree to be Health Minister.
The goodwill extended to current Health Minister Leo Varadkar, a qualified doctor, has surpassed that extended to any of his predecessors in recent memory.
Few emerge politically unscathed from the department former Taoiseach and ex-Health Minister Brian Cowen dubbed "Angola" because of the countless landmines, including strikes and overcrowding, that - as now - routinely erupted in the health sector. Yet Mr Varadkar has, thus far, and mere weeks away from a General Election, managed to avoid much of the opprobrium that others have endured. If anything, his popularity has increased, which is quite some feat.
The minister, a serious contender to replace Taoiseach Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael - and potentially become the country's first gay Taoiseach - has earned huge plaudits and public support for his frank admissions about the many problems in the health service.
But Mr Varadkar's self-pitying lament in an interview on Newstalk radio yesterday that he, as minister, lacks the authority to make the decisions that need to be made is unacceptable and a self-fired shot across the bows of his future leadership ambitions.
How would he manage a crisis if given the ultimate authority as Taoiseach - can he blame the generals then?
Because Mr Varadkar is playing senior hurling now and has had the privilege of being on the front bench for quite some time. He is no mere "line minister": he is the Health Minister and the ultimate responsibility for that admittedly complex brief lies with him.
If he had no authority to carry out his role, he should have sought the necessary infrastructural or legal changes to allow him to be at the heart of those difficult decisions.
Fresh deluge of worry as cold snap bites hard
After the floods comes a fresh deluge of worry for homes and businesses as Met Éireann warns of yet another "shock to the system" - as the country experiences its first cold snap, including snowfall, of the year.
The cold weather will add misery to many trying to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
It will also discourage thousands of families whose homes are uninsurable - and who are already facing the prospect of having to be relocated, such are the future flood risks.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has admitted that the Government, or any future government, may have to impose a Quinn Insurance-style levy on insurance policies to tackle the scourge of future floods. The taxpayer will thus pay, again, for the failure by successive administrations to manage a national flood defence policy.
The promise of "securing the recovery", Fine Gael's General Election refrain, will mean little to those facing the most hardship. But the Government must ensure that help is directed towards those who need it most - before it leaves office.