Saturday 22 October 2016

Taoiseach is on shaky ground despite denials

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Pic Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Pic Tom Burke

Historian Cyril Parkinson observed that: "Delay is the deadliest form of denial." Today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is in Brussels to meet Angela Merkel, Europe's most important leader at a time of Europe's greatest crisis. The contrast between the positions of the two could hardly be more pronounced. Mr Kenny has rightly earned the respect of Ms Merkel; he delivered on behalf of the EU.

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With buy-in from the Irish people, our economy bore the brunt of the crash, carrying colossal private debt. But there would be no domestic kudos for Mr Kenny. The election saw him shed 26 seats. Such losses would have, under normal circumstances, cost him the leadership of his party.

But circumstances were not normal: although battered, as leader of the largest party, with the help of some unlikely independents - and an even more unlikely deal with Fianna Fáil - he found himself Taoiseach again. A couple of months on, the brutal truth is that the only people who stand to gain by Mr Kenny's remaining are in Fianna Fail. The opinion polls show a resurgent party, while Mr Kenny's support wanes. His party, meanwhile, seems to be suffering a paralysis by analysis. Yesterday, he said that he would not be diverted from his work. That would be admirable had he not created so much of the diversion himself.

A series of blunders, coupled with the open questioning of his continuance as leader by party members, suggests that his days are numbered. Politics may be cruel but if Mr Kenny is feeling somewhat mugged, it is he himself who did the mugging. Re-instating the divisive figure of James Reilly as his deputy has deepened the cracks under his feet. Cabinet supporters say talk of change is creating instability, this too is delusional. The restlessness over Mr Kenny's stewardship is being caused by internal pressures.

The sooner they're dealt with, the better for the country.

If not student loans, then what is the alternative?

The ink was barely dry on the report of the expert group on future funding for higher education before it was already being attacked.

The usual suspects in politics - who promise everything but offer no solutions on how to pay for anything - gave their predictable, dismissive responses.

At the very least, this considered and carefully researched report by an expert group, headed by former Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary Peter Cassells, deserves some deliberation.

The report does not seek to sugar-coat the tough decisions that must be taken to adequately fund the third-level sector. But it also warns of the consequences of doing nothing in an education sector that is severely damaged.

"The status quo and funding options we have at the moment are not an option," Cassells warned.

The option of a student loan scheme is obviously controversial. In effect, it represents a fundamental change to the principle of free third-level education. The report also raises serious questions around the impact of bringing in student loans for those from low-income backgrounds.

The alternative is a publicly-funded model of third-level education. The report makes it clear that an additional €1bn per annum is needed over the next 15 years - an extra €600m in the lifetime of this Government alone.

There is an onus on those who want additional public funding to say where this money will come from - and what areas of health, social welfare and public services will lose out as a result. Having it both ways is not an option.

Irish Independent

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