Saturday 18 January 2020

Enda the only 'certainty' in uncertain times

It almost went unnoticed during the week that Mr Kenny plans a long political life in the Dáil. He is seen here with Étáin Sweeney Keogh during her 'Girl Takeover' organised by Plan International Ireland on the UN International Day of the Girl Photo: Maxwells
It almost went unnoticed during the week that Mr Kenny plans a long political life in the Dáil. He is seen here with Étáin Sweeney Keogh during her 'Girl Takeover' organised by Plan International Ireland on the UN International Day of the Girl Photo: Maxwells

Gerard O'Regan

Well, it's been a week of uncertainty on a number of fronts, but of one thing we can be sure. Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan did not have a bridesmaid on her wedding day.

And equally definite is that the long-running involvement of the current generation of the Ó Sé clan with the Kerry football team has come to an end, with the decision by Marc to finally bring down the curtain on his career.

And we know that a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman, more commonly referred to as Bob Dylan, has begged the Nobel Prize for literature. He may not exactly be a Samuel Beckett or a Seamus Heaney, but the lyrics of such anthems as 'Blowing in the Wind' obviously did the trick.

However, despite such sureties on such sundry items, when moving to the fallout from this week's Budget, uncertainty abounds on a number of fronts. The saga of the whistleblowers continues to simmer, affordable housing still remains out of reach for too many, while childcare remains a conundrum far from resolution.

Despite much hyperbole, insinuation, and accusation, Commissioner O'Sullivan put in a doughty performance in the Leinster House cauldron. She at least lived to fight another day, despite the best efforts of Deputies Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and sundry others to go for the jugular. At the end of it all, they simply failed to uncover any proof of wrongdoing in the higher echelons of the An Garda Síochána. Eventually, it may be a case of having to put up or to shut up, for those who insist they have hard evidence of dark deeds, as part of a process of nobbling whistleblowers.

So far, they have either lacked the bottle, or hard information, to pin down any kind of less-than-professional behaviour by the commissioner. The suggestion she promoted her bridesmaid as part of a policy of favouritism within the force - despite her insistence no such person was at her wedding - highlights the hazards of rumour, the gossip factory, and self-serving half truths.

The independent inquiry into Garda management and whistleblowers should run its course. Further outside investigation should be carried out if serious questions still remain unanswered. But until then, the old dictum of innocent until proven guilty should apply to all those deemed to be guilty of alleged malpractice.

Overall, the Government survived a Budget which was more than well signposted in advance, less it cause any unnecessary jitters in the Dáil, particularly among those Fianna Fáil TDs obliged to keep it in power.

But one of the biggest hassle areas remains housing, where trying to predict future trends continues to be a lottery not only in Ireland, but also in the UK and other developed countries.

All the while, the risk of another ''bubble'' hovers in the background. The risk is that any assistance given to buyers could push up prices even further, and indeed this may well be the immediate effect of the Budget initiative, designed to nudge more people on to the property ladder.

Yet the hope must be that massive pent-up demand for reasonably-priced houses in Dublin, and the bigger population centres, will eventually lead to the building of sufficient stock in outlying green spaces. Surely this will eventually reflect one of the basic laws of market economics - supply will equal demand if there are profits to be made. But uncertainty must surround any strategy in the short term.

The other equally contentious part of the budget was the emotive issue of childcare. Hard-pressed middle Ireland bemoans the fact that paying somebody to look after their children is usually akin to "a second mortgage". A first step has been taken in providing some parents with financial assistance; such a move has put the issue on to the political frontline, which will inevitably influence future budgets.

But the elephant in the room remains. The childcare industry is, in the main, based on cheap labour.

A lack of competitive remuneration, not to mention career structure, means that many crèche employees are working under sufferance. In blunt terms, if they could get a better job - or were better qualified - they would not spend their time looking after somebody else's children.

This not an ideal situation when it comes to providing high-quality care for babies and toddlers.

However, if these workers are to be better remunerated, it will push the costs for many parents into the stratosphere regardless of what aid they get from the Government. How much should be paid to crèche employees - and how much value should be put on the their job - remains a singularly unresolved and critical issue for our times.

And finally, and almost gone unnoticed, is the fact that Enda Kenny announced this week that he plans a long political life in the Dáil. Contrary to expectations, he told us he will run again in the next election. Mysteriously, there is no indication as to what his ambitions might be after that

However, despite this newly-stated intention to stick around Leinster House longer than expected, he has also assured one and all that he plans to step down from the party leadership before Fine Gael next faces the electorate.

We can be certain of that. Can't we?

Irish Independent

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