Saturday 16 December 2017

Fionnan Sheahan: Coalition report card for 2012

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

WHATEVER about last year, 2013 is the make-or-break one for the Coalition.

The Government faces the challenges of the EU presidency, delivering a deal on bank debt and exiting the bailout – along with the sensitive passing of abortion laws.

Ahead of the return of the Dail next week, Political Editor Fionnan Sheahan examines the ministers' records over the past 12 months and how they are faring in taking the tough decisions needed to get the country out of the current crisis.

Taoiseach: Enda Kenny (61)
Constituency: Mayo

Assessment: Credit where it's due, he is keeping the show on the road. Securing the specific mention of Ireland's position at the June 29 EU summit was a significant diplomatic achievement. So, too, was convincing Angela Merkel that she needed to back off on her dismissal of backdated recapitalisation three months later.

But all this hasn't delivered a cent yet, so the next six months with the EU presidency will be crucial. B ??Once he and his handlers accept that he will put his foot in his mouth occasionally, he'll grow into the role even more.

The hyper-sensitivity towards every bit of criticism does him no service.

B As the confidence is flowing

Tanaiste: Eamon Gilmore (56)
Constituency: Dun Laoghaire

Assessment: Taking a real long-term view and picking himself up from each blow. It's a tricky task to keep his own troops onside, while also seeking conciliation with Fine Gael. Wisely keeps his relationship with the Taoiseach open and strong, even when the parties are having their difficulties. In the end, Labour did stick to the toughest Budget parameters to date – even if they ??get no thanks for it.

The OSCE chairmanship was worthy but the tutelage of the EU fiscal treaty referendum was vital as a defeat there would have been an enormous setback.

B Keeping his head above water

Public Spending & Reform Minister: Brendan Howlin (54)
Constituency: Wexford

Assessment: Managed to make a dog's dinner out of the allowances cuts, but kept his eye on the bigger picture. The coalition is sticking with Croke Park, so squeezing another €1bn out of the reform package is the correct approach.

Aside from health, the spending side is measuring up and meeting all the relevant bailout terms and conditions.

He's working well with Noonan, making light of the fact that his is a new cabinet portfolio.

B+ Good start possible with Croke Park

Finance Minister: Michael Noonan (68)
Constituency: Limerick City

Assessment: Not yet reined in the excesses and inadequacies of the banks who continue to poke a finger at the largesse from the taxpayer. He's plugging away on the bank-debt deal with little enough to show for it, so the crunch is coming in 2013.

He brought the Exchequer returns in on target, despite the less-than-hopedfor levels of growth and remains on track to exit the bailout as a result. And a make or ?

Given his past analysis, Budget 2013 was an unimaginative mathematical exercise, albeit understandable in the circumstances.

C+ break year ahead

Health Minister: Dr James Reilly (62)
Constituency: Dublin North

Assessment: He's failing to deliver reform. He's failing to manage the department's finances. He's failing to manage his own finances. He's failing to work with his coalition partners. He's failing to explain decisions credibly. He's failing to implement cuts effectively.

At least he grew up in the Budget negotiations and didn't run around trying to scare everyone.

F Appalling year for the weakest link

Education Minister: Ruairi Quinn (66)
Constituency: Dublin South-East

Assessment: The farcical roll-out of the new third level grants system is not his finest hour.

The silly pre-election promise on the college fees also continues to haunt him, and from the start of the year the partial U-turn on the disadvantaged schools was messy.

But on the plus side he did push ahead with the Junior Cert reform.

D Needs to justify existence

Justice Minister: Alan Shatter (61)
Constituency: Dublin South

Assessment: Being disingenuous on the impacts on policing of reducing the pay bill. At a time when the public need reassurance about the D reforms to policing, he's not offering it.

Chucking out the latest list of garda station closures on budget day was hardly transparency in action. Deserves credit for the D Personal Insolvency Bill – provided it actually works.

D Arrogance not communication tool

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton (58)
Constituency: Dublin North-Central

Assessment: Sneer away at the Action Plan for Jobs, but its real impact will be seen in five to 10 years' time. It sets a template for the implementation of policy by outlining real targets, reporting the deadlines being met and having them supervised by the Taoiseach's office. He seems to be getting the right policies in line by taking a long-term view of the unemployment problem.

Needs a bit of economic growth

Transport Minister: Dr Leo Varadkar (33)
Constituency: Dublin West

Assessment: Throwing himself, quite literally, into promoting and organising The Gathering, which will bear fruit as a result. Finally resolved the Shannon Airport question and killed off the Ryanair interest in Aer Lingus.

Not mouthing off as much, but probably needs to do more to get the confidence of the FG backbenchers if he has long-term ambitions.

B- Pretty highprofile year ahead

Social Protection Minister: Joan Burton (63)
Constituency: Dublin West

Assessment: Learned her lesson from the previous budget and avoided the unnecessary scare-mongering. But she still threw out the red herrings on sick pay and bereavement grants.

Fiercely stuck to the Budget cuts once agreed.

But this year will be significant in terms of delivery of the reforms of the system she all too often talks about.

C+ Less conversation, more action

Environment Minister: Phil Hogan (51)
Constituency: Carlow-Kilkenny

Assessment: Importantly ground out the hard yards on the household charge, paving the way for the introduction of the property tax. But his less-than-subtle handling ??of the roll-out was lacking to say the least.

Gains brownie points on bringing in the candidate gender quotes for the general election – the most significant political reform for years.

D Not a year to remember

Communications Minister: Pat Rabbitte (62)
Constituency: Dublin South-West

Assessment: Eamon Gilmore's bodyguard still seems to be more interested in the politics than the portfolio. To be fair, he got the digital switchover right in terms of ??covering the base on poor people and those in isolated areas. Beyond that, he still displays no great gra for the job. But his appreciation for the sound of his own voice knows no bounds – not always to good effect.

D Seems a little bored of his job.

Agriculture Minister: Simon Coveney (40)
Constituency: Cork South-Central

Assessment: Generally viewed as getting a good deal on the latest round of fisheries quotas.

At a boomtime in farming, he ??has surfed the wave. But his popularity among more marginal farmers took a hit when he cut a raft of farm schemes in the Budget. The EU presidency presents him with a prime opportunity to cement his reputation as the architect of CAP reform.

B For the crown prince

Children's Minister: Frances Fitzgerald (56)
Constituency: Dublin Mid-West

Assessment: Importantly, got the Children's Referendum across the line – barely. Achieving broad consensus was crucial, and difficult. However, this did point to the lack of ambition in the ??wording, which didn't differ much from the original text. Loses points for the huge mess-up over the Government's information campaign being dumped on by the Supreme Court.

C Should have been a better year.

Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister: Jimmy Deenihan (59)
Constituency: Kerry North-West Limerick

Assessment: Not exactly the most taxing of portfolios. He flies the flag well on the arts side and shows a genuine interest and acknowledges the efforts of small community groups.

Pretty much put the turf-cutting row to bed this year with the sign-up of so many to the compensation scheme, so it just needs to be monitored.

D Nothing spectacular.

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