| 11.3°C Dublin

Kenny gaffe a sad return to old ways

DURING the general election campaign, Enda Kenny made a commitment to retain the accident and emergency services in Roscommon County Hospital. The promise was unwise. It has not been honoured and will not be honoured.

Once he became Taoiseach, Mr Kenny should have admitted that, and apologised for pledging something he could not deliver. Instead, in a radio interview on Saturday he denied that he had made the commitment.

His faulty memory was exposed by the disclosure of a tape recording, made by a 'Sunday Business Post' reporter, which proved beyond question that in February he had indeed given the specific promise which he denied in July. Yesterday he was forced to issue a retraction and an explanation -- of sorts.

This was a sad moment, and possibly an unforgettable moment, for the Taoiseach and his Government.

Everybody hates broken promises, but broken election promises are more often forgiven than any other kind. They are spoken in the heat of a campaign. Often they are designed to please party faithful who scarcely stop to think what they mean.

Unfortunately for Mr Kenny, there are important differences in this case. His statement during the campaign had implications that went far beyond Roscommon.

The provision of services in smaller hospitals was under review by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and the incoming Government would have to address the question as a matter of urgency.

Yesterday he said that HIQA had advised on safety grounds against providing accident and emergency services in Roscommon and elsewhere. That is more an excuse than an explanation.

He could have apologised more elegantly. He could also reflect, as he should have done back in February, that never in Irish political history had election promises been less appropriate.

Fianna Fail's crushing defeat was as certain as anything can be in life. His own accession to the highest office was equally predictable.

Since then, his Government has displayed a measure of courage and fortitude in a situation which is even worse now than it was in February. But it is far from clear that all his ministers -- or all the top officials -- understand the pressing need for sweeping reform and total rejection of old-style politics.

The affair of the Roscommon hospital exemplifies an aspect of the old-style politics which we cannot afford.

From now on, the Taoiseach, ministers and officials can look forward only to the hard grind and frequent mishaps, and try to keep their feet out of their mouths.

Irish Independent