Saturday 24 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: We became distracted by 'shiny and new', but reality is different

Things can get better but Mr Varadkar has no time for a honeymoon. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Things can get better but Mr Varadkar has no time for a honeymoon. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It was like the taming of the Maverick. The feisty and rebellious Leo Varadkar turned into a Statesman with a wry smile and a wave to crowds basking in the Leinster House sunshine.

Everything was shiny and new. For a moment Ireland turned a genuine corner, showing the world how open-minded and modern we are.

Little old 'backward' Ireland made the UK government look like jokers and the United States appear crazy.

As a 'Republic of Opportunities' we would move forward together to a better day.

But you pause for a second, the bubble bursts and reality hits. We remember the country is gripped by challenges. They are crises in health, housing, justice, foreign affairs, education and rural affairs.

Almost every minister faces a major problem of one sort or another - and for all the feel good factor that came with Mr Varadkar's big day there was that niggling in the back of our minds that everything is far from rosy.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

Shiny and new can distract us from the day to day drudgery but that doesn't mean it goes away.

Performing his last official duty as Taoiseach yesterday, Enda Kenny mused: "The country is in good shape, much better than it was and I'm sure the incoming Government will mind itself very carefully in the interests of the people."

There's no doubt that things are better than 2011 but for all the back-slapping and fist-bumping we are far from perfect.

Mr Varadkar said he will seize the "enormous task ahead of me and my responsibilities to this country and all its citizens".

"I approach it not with a feeling of presumption, but with a sense of profound humility, respect and appreciation for all that has gone before," he said.

So what's the plan? Well there was nothing shiny and very little new about the Cabinet appointments.

Details of the reshuffle were kept tight in recent days although key ideas such as handing Finance and Public Expenditure to Paschal Donohoe were tested through the media.

There was plenty of room for a big surprise but there weren't any.

We knew about the in-fighting over who would get Foreign Affairs and who wouldn't get Justice - but Mr Varadkar decided to appease Simon Coveney with the Brexit role.

Charlie Flanagan heads to Justice against his will.

Mr Varadkar decided that a fate worse than demotion would be to leave Simon Harris in Health. A hospital pass of sorts.

And Eoghan Murphy, the newbie, was assigned to fix the housing crisis as reward for overseeing his leadership campaign.

Mary Mithcell O'Connor was the only casuality of the day but she was given a soft landing as a 'super junior' minister in the Department of Education.

A day after the outgoing Attorney General was handed a top job in the Court of Appeal, creating a job in order to demote somebody doesn't exactly sing 'new politics'.

In his contribution last night Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin warned that the role of Taoiseach "is profoundly different from that of being a departmental minister and party spokesman".

"It is only by him holding the office that we will see if Deputy Varadkar is willing to make the changes necessary to be successful," he said.

The Cabinet didn't bring much change but Mr Varadkar did indicate he wants to force some social and economic change.

He talked of his plans for investment in infrastructure and stressed that housing and health would be prioritised.

Of course we've heard those promises before and only time will tell if Mr Varadkar can make advances in areas where the Government has floundered for the past few years.

A starting point was his confirmation that there will be a referendum on abortion next year. Mr Harris is the lead to work on that.

"I believe in the power of politics. It is not perfect, but it is the best way of solving problems and helping to build a better future," Mr Varadkar said yesterday.

"Michael Collins believed that, with the right political and economic social system in place, Ireland could become a shining light unto the world. A century later, that dream lives on in all of us in this Chamber, in all parties and none."

Things can get better but Mr Varadkar has no time for a honeymoon.

Irish Independent

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