Sunday 18 February 2018

Maeve Dineen: Reshuffled Cabinet needs new portfolios to target financial crisis

As Brian Cowen prepares for a cabinet reshuffle, he should give serious thought to creating a few portfolios to help defeat this financial crisis.

The crisis has created several problems that demand the full attention of both junior and senior ministers.

Perhaps the most obvious problem child is the banking sector, which now requires such a large amount of the State's resources.

We need a single figure to keep an eye on the banks, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and the regulatory framework, which has yet to be devised at national and European level.

NAMA will cast such an important shadow on Irish life for many years to come, that the minister responsible should be a full minister, with a seat at the cabinet table.

He or she should have a junior minister with responsibility for the IFSC, one of the most important sectors of the economy.

An effective minister for the IFSC will need to spend most of their time on the road drumming up business for Ireland Inc. If long periods overseas are incompatible with the demands of life in a multi-seat constituency, Mr Cowen could consider appointing somebody to the Senate and then making them minister as well.

Another important move, which could have long-lasting effects, would be to name a junior minister for pensions. Pensions are a small and unloved part of social welfare but are now too important to ignore.

As pension funds crumble, people stop contributing to their pensions, the National Pension Reserve Fund is plundered and the population lives longer and longer, we need to begin a serious debate about proper pension provision.

No recent social-welfare minister, except possibly the late Seamus Brennan, showed any great interest in pensions and it is well known that there is not much political capital in promising bread and jam decades hence. This explains the lack of political will to reform the system but it does not excuse it.

During the boom, it made sense to bundle trade, industry and employment into a single ministry but this is no longer the case -- the 420,000 people out of work deserve and need their own employment minister, whose job would be to reform FAS and introduce the sort of innovative schemes that help people to get back to work.

If creating jobs for the unemployed and looking after the 1.9 million people still lucky enough to have a job is not a full-time job, I don't know what is.

Reforms along these lines would still leave a mountain of work for the Finance Minister, who still faces the uphill struggle of balancing the books, reassuring the bond markets and reforming the tax code to ensure there are proper incentives to work and do business.

But the appointment of an economics minister would give him some space and allow him to focus on the critical aspects of his portfolio.

We can only hope that Brian Cowen is spending hours on end with a pad and pen and a list of departments that will require a person to head them. It can't be that difficult. Fill in the obvious slots, then move some names around until satisfied with the outcome. It is not exactly sudoku, is it? It should be pretty easy.

Irish Independent

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