Tuesday 25 June 2019

Four top tips for our Cabinet ministers in desperate need of a 2017 reboot

Shane Ross infamously called the transport element of his ministerial portfolio ‘a doddle’. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Shane Ross infamously called the transport element of his ministerial portfolio ‘a doddle’. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

'New Year, new you" is the mantra of self-help gurus and there are a number of members of Cabinet who desperately need a reboot. Always eager to help, this column has taken the liberty of suggesting New Year's resolutions for some of our more underwhelming ministers.

Leo Varadkar

Time to improve the diet

2016 was the year when Leo Varadkar, a former social caterpillar, transformed into a social butterfly. Throughout the year, reports reached us of Leo wining and dining the party faithful.

First, he was accused of 'love-bombing' fellow Fine Gael TDs with pizza and beer. Then, he was spotted enjoying oysters with Galway West TDs Seán Kyne and Hildegarde Naughton.

The Social Protection Minister has also been a regular on the rubber chicken circuit, opening constituency offices for backbenchers, while he has also taken Dublin TDs and senators to the Leopardstown races.

With Leo's performance in his new ministry decidedly muted to date, newspapers may need to ditch their political correspondents and employ social diarists to start keeping track of his hectic schmoozing schedule.

Some of you cynics may believe that Leo is deigning to mingle with the party hoi polloi only in a bid to curry favour with the plebs in any upcoming leadership race.

Indeed, the evidence would seem to suggest that Leo has gambled that the best way to Fine Gael stalwarts' hearts is through their stomachs - with everything from beer and pizza to oysters on the menu.

However, his charm offensive risks playing havoc with his diet. In the new year, if Leo is trying to ingratiate himself with his colleagues, maybe he could ditch the booze and fast food and try healthier pursuits.

Renowned healthy eater and shadow cabinet member, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, could give him a few tips.

Shane Ross

Remember you're now a minister

The year 1936 saw the publication of one of the world's best-selling self-help books, 'How to win friends and influence people'. Based on his performance in 2016, Shane Ross will soon be able to publish an alternative tome entitled, 'How to lose friends and alienate people'.

From the start, the omens were not good. Writing about the tense negotiations to form a government, while they were ongoing in March, Mr Ross complained that Enda Kenny was a "political corpse".

When he was eventually made Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister, the depredations continued.

Having presumably expected a relatively cushy number, with a long summer of glad-handing at the Olympics and the World Cup to look forward to, Mr Ross was then promptly engulfed by the Olympic ticket scandal - being accused of mishandling the fiasco from the outset.

Then, soon after the Luas strikes finally came to an end, and just before the Dublin Bus strikes commenced, Mr Ross appeared on 'The Late Late Show' and confided that the transport element of his brief was a "doddle".

Perhaps it is because Mr Ross views transport as a "doddle" that he appears to have expended virtually no time on his brief, preferring instead to embark on a crusade to reform judicial appointments.

Needless to say, his ultimatums in that regard, refusing to countenance the appointment of any new judges until he got his way, went down like a lead balloon before being quietly abandoned when long delays in the courts were the inevitable result.

In 2017, perhaps Mr Ross can resolve to be less derogatory when discussing his Cabinet colleagues, try to remember he is now a minister and not a caustic columnist and spend more time working in his actual department - instead of butting in elsewhere.

Simon Harris

Less talk, more action

The meteoric rise of the young Wicklow TD was confirmed last year when he was appointed Health Minister, aged just 29. Appearing undaunted by being selected for a stint in 'Angola', Simon Harris has managed to avoid the many landmines thus far.

However, 2017 could be the year when Mr Harris is found out. Talk is cheap, and there have been few tangible signs his selection has led to any discernible benefits for patients.

In fact, waiting lists have got much worse, with a record 538,000 people now on public hospital lists while November saw the highest ever number of patients on trolleys.

Meanwhile, the targets Mr Harris has set - that no patient waits more than 18 months for day-case treatment by next June - are risible. In the private sector, patients rarely wait more than a few weeks for an appointment, yet Mr Harris seems to think it is acceptable for public patients to languish on lists for nearly two years - and calls this an achievement.

Like his predecessor, Mr Varadkar, Mr Harris has proven adept at agreeing that health services are not acceptable while simultaneously portraying himself as some sort of innocent bystander, watching helplessly as the chaos unfolds.

He won't get away with that for much longer.

John Halligan

Read the small print

Adept at hogging the headlines throughout 2016, John Halligan caused controversy by suggesting he would help a terminally ill patient end their life, stating prostitution should be legalised and comparing the anti-choice lobby to Isil.

He also admitted tensions with Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor because he thought it was "unfair" he didn't get to make jobs announcements in his constituency and threatened to "bring all hell down" on the Government if a second cath lab wasn't delivered in Waterford.

It was this latter altercation that caused the most difficulty, when he revealed he thought a review of services at University Hospital Waterford was a mere box-ticking exercise and delivery of the new unit was a core part of the Programme for Government.

"I am not going to be f***ed over by anybody. I don't care if it is the man on the street or some guy threatening me. And you can print that," he told the 'Sunday Independent', rounding on his Fine Gael colleagues and threatening to walk from Government if his demands weren't met.

With a mobile cath lab now being suggested by Mr Ross, this squabble will surface again.

The lesson for Mr Halligan from all of this when a new deal is being hammered out?

Spend less time grandstanding and more time reading the small print.

Irish Independent

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