Friday 18 January 2019

Plan sets out a vision for why Ireland needs 'long-term Leo'

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Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's time we all started to plan for 'long-term Leo'.

We need to put the last decade of Bertie, Brian and Enda behind us and wake up to a "better Ireland and better times ahead". The extravagance afforded the launch of Project Ireland 2040 was lost on nobody in Sligo IT yesterday.

Think Fine Gael Ard Fheis meets election manifesto launch meets a stag party that let a few girls come along because that's the modern thing to do.

Leo Varadkar laughed off questions about the glitzy, almost North Korean-style launch, saying it cost a lot less than the €116bn he was splurging on trains, planes and electric automobiles.

"We're going to communicate this. It is one of the most important things the Government has done and will do," he said.

But it was hard not to get distracted by the marching ministers and beautifully put together videos.

Yet everybody insisted it was not about the next election, which begged the question as to whether it might actually be about the one after that.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys set the tone telling her rural audience that Team Leo "could not and would not replicate the mistakes of the past".

"It is not about one for everybody in the audience," she declared.

The most senior female minister was right because Kevin 'Boxer' Moran got two. Not only did he get permission to 'Make Athlone Great Again', the Independent minister got €1bn for flood defences which are likely to be very vogue this election season.

"Nobody will be left behind," Ms Humphreys proclaimed, reassuring the Border region that herself and Simon Coveney are on top of this Brexit problem.

Next up was Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who recalled the dark old days when he was in college 12 years ago.

There were no such thing as smartphones. At one point he had to use a BlackBerry to send an email.

But things have changed, utterly. "That change can be exciting and worrying too," he told the students present.

"But you don't have to worry about the big picture. That's our responsibility."

Notably for a minister dealing with a housing emergency he felt the need to add that "we have to look beyond fixing the immediate crises to the long-term".

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe talked about the "journey" the country had taken to reach the point where the entire Cabinet could decamp to Yeats Country with good news.

He had watched the clouds over Benbulbin lift as he was driven down the N4 and thought it was the perfect metaphor.

As the clock ticked down towards 2040, Transport Minister Shane Ross made an unscheduled move towards the podium.

Sources say the Independent Alliance minister wasn't originally assigned a speaking slot but managed to remind Leo & Co that they might still be useful partners after the next election.

The texts from Fianna Fáil TDs rolled in. "Oh sweet Jesus, this is awful. There are icebergs melting during this," said one review.

Another suggested a backing track to replace the diddly-aye music: a Carly Simon edit along the lines of 'You're so vain, you probably think this PLAN is about you…'

Mr Ross used his pitch to tell us: "I can guarantee you that in 2040 Ireland's transport system will be unrecognisable." Read that whichever way you choose.

Eventually it was the Taoiseach's turn. He urged the nation to "put the last decade behind us and move forward into the new decade of expansion".

Fine Gael (he didn't mention it by name) had "spent seven years putting the country back on track".

Now "long-term planning is the cornerstone of good government" so that we don't repeat "the policy mistakes of others".

Obviously he meant Fianna Fáil, but he didn't mention it by name either.

He accused Opposition politicians of trying to divide the country along "rural versus urban".

"It's populism, old-style politics of the worst sort," he said.

"We're one Ireland and we'll move forward as one Ireland."

A nice slogan but not that starting gun of the election - just the warm up.

Paschal Donohoe let it slip. He revealed the Government now has "a plan that is better for how we plan".

This is just the beginning. Expect a lot more launches.

Irish Independent

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