Thursday 5 December 2019

Varadkar and Coveney fail to see their job is to manage policy during a crisis

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney (right) helps Civil Defence members pull a boat through flooding at Springfield, Co Clare. Photo: Gareth Williams / Press 22
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney (right) helps Civil Defence members pull a boat through flooding at Springfield, Co Clare. Photo: Gareth Williams / Press 22
John Downing

John Downing

As history can prove over and over, where responsibility is divided it is frequently avoided.

That one is not as cryptic as it might sound at first.

Buck-passing is a great political skill to acquire and some people - not just professional politicians - operate it at Olympic level. But it is also a tiresome carry-on, especially when it is operated backwards as well as forwards.

Yesterday, two very good examples of this could be heard on the national airwaves, involving two high-profile ministers.

The exponents are also those viewed as the favourites to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach sooner rather than later - Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Defence Minister Simon Coveney.

Varadkar was on Newstalk trying to defend the latest surge of overcrowding in hospital A&Es, which has reached crisis proportions. Yes, he is not the first Health Minister, and sadly may not be the last, to be in this no-win situation.

Amidst his arguments, Varadkar insisted a minister cannot be personally responsible for what happens in every hospital. This is true.

But the Health Minister is responsible for the development of policy, the management of the system and the allocation of resources that gobble up €13bn per year. The A&E buck stops with the minister.

On RTÉ, Coveney was fighting against the flood fallout. Among his offerings was a self-congratulatory account of how he personally arranged for a soldier to go down and man a pump in Golden Island in Athlone at the weekend. Should the Defence Minister really be allocating personnel to operate the pumps? If he had a policy, system and resources properly in place, then he wouldn't - literally - have his hand on the parish pump.

Responding to the floods, like the A&E problems, is a major logistics challenge. In each case many thousands of people are worn out from working to meet that challenge.

But there are questions about the effectiveness of our national response. And where the ministerial buck stops is not decided by whether the news item is good or bad.

So much for our future leaders grasping the point of their office.

Irish Independent

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