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Fionnan Sheahan: Mixed signals as sultans of spin go into overdrive

EVERYBODY has an opinion on the Croke Park Agreement.

But when the opinions of cabinet ministers appear to be different, this causes obvious confusion and an inherent problem for the Government.

Last weekend, Kieran Mulvey, the chairman of the Labour Relations Commission, was lamenting the proliferation of often ill-informed suppositions being put forward on the deal.

Little did he know that within 24 hours, half the Cabinet along with other senior figures would join the ranks of those with thoughts to get off their chest.

Ruairi Quinn, Brian Hayes, Leo Varadkar, Pat Rabbitte, Richard Bruton and Charlie Flanagan each had views about the deal. Depending on who you listened to, Croke Park may or may not be re-opened because of the difficult economic conditions; pay cuts might come into the equation, and additional elements might be added.

There was talk of negotiations on a successor being fast-tracked.

Pat Rabbitte spoke vaguely about invoking the emergency clause, and Leo Varadkar suggested renegotiating immediately.

But Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were crystal clear: Croke Park will be upheld.

"I'm telling you what the position is. We have an agreement, the agreement is in place and the agreement will be honoured in full. What we want to see is the pace of implementation of the agreement to be as accelerated as quickly as possible," Mr Kenny said.

The confusion over the status of Croke Park is surprising.

The Cabinet thrashed out the question of shaping a Budget without pay cuts last week. The outcome of the debate was there would be no change in policy, and stick to Croke Park.

The malaise at the heart of Government is being caused by the failure to get a handle on their chosen policy.

The message to the public is shaped by the message to the parties.

Frustration

Coalition backbenchers are consistently expressing frustration in private about the lack of direction from the top.

The debacle last week over Dr James Reilly's health cuts, where Fine Gael backbenchers were left to hang out to dry after holding the line, is but the latest example.

At the moment, the policy communication is too often left to individual ministers and their teams of spin doctors. The Taoiseach's handlers seem obsessed only with what he is saying, rather than the perception of the Government as a whole.

This sole focus on the image of the Taoiseach is to the detriment of the Coalition.

Ministers also observe it can be difficult at times to get the word on the Coalition's position from Government Buildings.

Mr Kenny himself will have to take steps to ensure there is a greater level of guidance from the centre.

Mark Kennelly, the Taoiseach's Chef de Cabinet, ought to be the hub for ensuring the wires are not crossed.

Fresh from his visit last week to the Democrats Convention in North Carolina, Mr Kennelly will be up to speed on cutting-edge developments in political management from Stateside.

The Taoiseach is not in election mode like US President Barack Obama, but keeping the Coalition unified and getting the Budget across the line still means a challenging winter ahead.

Irish Independent