Wednesday 21 February 2018

Bold moves by Labour – but it's also in line to shoulder even more blame

Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte
Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte
John Downing

John Downing

LABOUR is fighting for its very existence, so it is only fair to stress some positive things from this cabinet reshuffle, before turning to the considerable difficulties.

Firstly, credit where it is due: newly elected party leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton had the courage to take some radical decisions.

She did not bow to internal party arguments that former leader Pat Rabbitte was vital in Cabinet to face up to their Fine Gael partners in times of conflict.

In fact, three former Labour Party leaders – with Ruairi Quinn, who quit voluntarily, and Eamon Gilmore, who went quietly – are now on the backbenches.

Ms Burton is entitled to points for courage even in the face of accusations that she risks reviving the internal Democratic Left faultline.

Secondly, she did appoint quality personnel. Jan O'Sullivan in the Department of Education will bring pragmatism and commitment to a sector she knows.

Alan Kelly will bring enthusiasm and toughness to the Environment Department. Alex White also brings a lifetime's experience to his post of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Mr White will face some claims that his long RTE career raises questions about impartiality in regard to broadcasting.

But that is the least of Labour's problems between now and the looming general election in spring 2016 at the latest.

Similarly, Ged Nash is a popular and deserving appointee to the post of 'Super Junior Minister' responsible for job creation. But his ability to show real value-added in that vital sector will be called into question.

That leads us deeper into Labour's negative returns from this reshuffle. It is clear that it lost the tussle to get some chunk of the job-creation portfolio as FG's Richard Bruton and his team clung on very effectively.

That is a blow to Joan Burton's Labour and it remains to be seen how much it was offset by their getting the Environment Department.

This department comes with a range of positives in direct spending powers but it also has the bugbears of local tax and water charges, which have the potential to inflict further political damage.

Labour shares its Fine Gael partner's need to deliver extra jobs and money to recession-weary voters in the next two Budgets. But if that proves possible then they need to claim their share of the credit.

This reshuffle does not make claiming credit any easier for Labour and Joan Burton.

Irish Independent

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