Monday 9 December 2019

No place for dithering - indecision will cost Burton

Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office. Photo: Mark Condren
Newly elected Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving at the Taoiseach's office. Photo: Mark Condren
John Downing

John Downing

"Indecision and delays are the parents of failure."

Those words are attributed to George Canning, a long-forgotten British Prime Minister who – in sentiments the direct opposite to those of the infamous Duke of Wellington – called himself "an Irishman born in London". The Londoner with strong Co Derry links did his politicking in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries – but many of his aphorisms seem as fresh as though they were coined in recent weeks.

His comment about the perils of dithering and procrastinating came to mind this week, as four days of to-ing and fro-ing about a potential re-working of government priorities and a cabinet re-shuffle just dragged and dragged.

And walking the corridors of Leinster House, there were frequent comments about the new Tanaiste and Labour leader, Joan Burton, never wanting to decide today what she could decide tomorrow.

These reflections came from senior people in all parties who have observed the Social Protection Minister since she was first elected to the Dail in 1992. Many of those within Labour who expressed this view were not especially hostile to her.

Another of the new Tanaiste's traits, which was in evidence during her three-and-a-half years in Government to date, has been an ability to appear aloof from the centre of it all. Harsher critics would have described her as "half-in and half-out" of this Government.

Often when her party leader, Eamon Gilmore, was struggling, her declarations of support were halting, partial and incomplete. It served her well enough – she is now the Tanaiste and leader of a much diminished Labour.

But she is also now in a very different space. She is second in command in a very battered Government. She is leading a party whose very future existence is questioned.

There are big decisions ahead for Joan Burton and still more unpopular decisions to be made. The buck will stop with her now and she must face the consequences of those decisions.

If she dodges the hard decisions, or delays and effectively makes these decisions by default, she will fail in the exceptionally difficult mission that she has been handed: saving the Irish Labour Party.

She will know that her every decision – or indecision – will be measured from this on.

As Tanaiste and Labour Party leader, trying to have it both ways or putting off crucial decisions could prove politically lethal.

Irish Independent

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