Friday 23 August 2019

Hugh O'Connell: Cabinet's end-of-year report card - from lacklustre Leo, to calm Coveney and Finian McGrath getting results

Unforced errors: The Taoiseach has lost his lustre and could be heading to be leader of the Opposition
Unforced errors: The Taoiseach has lost his lustre and could be heading to be leader of the Opposition
Measured: Richard Bruton
Astute: Heather Humphreys
Calm: Simon Coveney
Brave: Regina Doherty
Doubts: Paschal Donohoe
Under fire: Michael Creed
Josepha Madigan
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

It has become clear in recent months that this Government is nearing an end. Controversies from the National Children's Hospital to broadband combined with a series of gaffes by Fine Gael politicians have put in doubt the notion that Leo Varadkar can lead his party back into government after the next election. The end of the Dáil term this week presents a perfect opportunity to assess his performance and that of his ministers who sat around the Cabinet table over the past 12 months. Hugh O'Connell gives his verdict.

Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach)

Leo has lost his lustre. Fine Gael TDs privately bemoan his indecisiveness on Maria Bailey, his bottling of a Cabinet reshuffle and several unforced errors - from sinning priests to cutting down on steak. Mr Varadkar can point to a booming economy, but he is currently set to be leading the Opposition after the next election. Brexit may be his only hope. 4/10

Simon Coveney (Foreign Affairs)

Having such a calm and measured figure like the Tánaiste spearheading Ireland's Brexit response should be welcomed given the ongoing madness in the UK. The Government and Mr Varadkar would be lost without him. 9/10

Paschal Donohoe (Finance)

The likeable finance minister's reputation for prudence is shattered. Sanctioning the National Children's Hospital overspend saw the Government's credibility on managing public spending shot. He has ignored official warnings on broadband and rejected ominous missives from the Fiscal Advisory Council and others. For the first time, doubts are growing about him. 3/10

Richard Bruton (Communications)

The ego-less Mr Bruton has dealt with some of the most difficult issues facing this Government, including broadband and climate change, without fuss. He has become a Michael Noonan-type figure with a measured approach and brings calm to proceedings. 8/10

Charlie Flanagan (Justice)

The fact he is not hitting the headlines is a bonus for Fine Gael given it has been crippled by Garda crises. As well as taking a strong line with insurance companies, he has sat patiently through 100 hours of debate on the judicial appointments bill to keep Shane Ross happy and the Government intact. 7/10

Heather Humphreys (Business)

She has been non-partisan by adopting opposition proposals on ticket-touting gift vouchers. She has been politically astute in taking a strong line on the Maria Bailey controversy and deftly deflecting criticism over Mercosur onto the Agriculture Minister. 7/10

Simon Harris (Health)

He is never found wanting when it comes to responding to the latest health crisis, be it CervicalCheck or the National Children's Hospital. His work-rate is unmatched, but questions must be asked about the level of delivery versus the number of announcements. Outstanding policy pledges are a hallmark of his time in Health. 5/10

Michael Creed (Agriculture)

Farmers are never happy, but they are fuming with the Government right now and Mr Creed has done little to help matters. His questionable pronouncements about dismantling the elements of the Mercosur trade deal that angered the beef industry annoyed his Government colleagues and did little to assuage farmers. 3/10

Shane Ross (Transport)

The Independent Alliance minister is making less noise at Cabinet while ensuring he turns up at every Irish sporting hero's photo-op. While he frets about an unopened Garda station in Stepaside and the judicial appointments bill, there has been little by way of delivery when it comes to his actual responsibilities. 3/10

Katherine Zappone (Children)

She has been a compassionate voice on the mother and baby homes issue. She has also demonstrated capacity to listen, having paused controversial adoption tracing legislation because of concerns expressed by those affected. Childcare remains her biggest issue, but she has fought for extra funding. 6/10

Regina Doherty (Social Protection)

Suggestions the low uptake in paternity leave was because of a lack of interest from new fathers caused outrage, but she has reduced her tendency to put her foot in it. Pension reforms are slow-moving but under way. It was brave to talk about the need to go behind the fiver-for-all approach to social welfare increases, but it probably won't win the Government many votes from pensioners. 5/10

Michael Ring (Rural Affairs)

A strong rural voice who argued for the National Broadband Plan, he is needed to counteract a Dublin-heavy Cabinet but seems reluctant to defend FG against claims of anti-rural bias. He heads a department whose functions are a mystery to most. 6/10

Eoghan Murphy (Housing)

Despite relentless criticism, he is soldiering on with little to show for his efforts aside from statistics that indicate the housing crisis is not as bad as it was. That's cold comfort to more than 10,000 people who are homeless and thousands of couples struggling to rent or buy. Mr Varadkar would have been better off moving his ally out of Housing after the recent elections. 3/10

Josepha Madigan (Culture)

The former solicitor can claim credit for changes to Ireland's divorce laws as a result of the passing of a referendum she campaigned for. As a minister she has appeared busy, but made little impression, while being plunged into controversy over questions about her involvement in the Maria Bailey case. 4/10

Joe McHugh (Education)

More astute than opponents give him credit for, he has largely sidestepped the anger of teachers over issues like pay equalisation and shown political nous by commissioning a review into the removal of history as a core Junior Cert subject. 7/10

Sean Kyne (Chief Whip)

He has muddled his numbers on occasion, with the Government losing Dáil votes that it shouldn't. He has at least operated out of the public glare in contrast to his predecessor Ms Doherty, who frequently took to the airwaves. 5/10

Mary Mitchell O'Connor (Higher Education)

While striving to ensure more women work in our third-level institutes, she has done nothing to address the single biggest issue facing high-level education: how to fund it into the future. 4/10

Finian McGrath (Disabilities)

He can rightly point to funding increases in his sector of which many ministers could only dream. His rants at Cabinet may produce eyerolls, but he gets results. 8/10

Paul Kehoe (Defence)

A not-insignificant pay-deal for Defence Forces has been overshadowed by a row over staff shortages in the Navy that he has handled terribly. Were it not for his relationship with Mr Varadkar, he might have been gone by now. 3/10

Irish Independent

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