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A break with the past? Early signs not good

The atmosphere was carnival. Outside the gates of Leinster House newly elected TDs were behaving as though the nation had cause for celebration.

Grown men were weeping. The few females in our number had maxed out on the credit card for the day. Children, grandchildren, spouses, brothers, sisters, parents and friends had decided to have a party. The Dail bar was packed. Wednesday was a national day of denial.

Two hours later a bump wobbled the wagon. The Labour Party, typically, had its first tiff. Not about policy. No, politics as normal was restored when the announcement of the Coalition Cabinet was delayed over a spat about the spoils.

Joan Burton and Frances Fitzgerald -- the only women in Cabinet -- got lesser portfolios than expected. Joan appeared shafted by Labour's old guard while Frances' talents were hardly recognised. The sole Fine Gael woman had been entrusted to care for the nation's children.

Next, a humble bus took the chosen 16 to Aras an Uachtarain to receive their seals of office. Gone was the fleet of black Mercs. Gone, too, were the Fianna Fail ministerial salaries, reduced in the Coalition's first hour of office.

The message was being spun: the Enda-Eamon show is a break with the past. We shall see. We can hope. We will judge. But the early signs are not good despite the display for the media on their first day in office.

The big issues are hardly being addressed.


Yesterday our new Taoiseach headed out to Brussels to meet European President Jose Manuel Barroso to plead for better terms on the bailout.

Enda has been infected by the same craven attitude to Europe as his predecessors.

We now know that Europe took a hard line on Ireland when Fianna Fail accepted the bailout terms. They are taking the same stance with Fine Gael and Labour. The new Coalition, having promised that there would be "burden sharing", is beating the fastest retreat since the Iraqi rout in Operation Desert Storm.

Enda's meeting with Barroso is paving the way for Finance Minister Michael Noonan to return from Brussels with a promise of a reduced interest rate on the €86bn loan. An empty concession, as a cut has been a foregone conclusion for weeks.

Let us judge the Coalition on its success in reversing Fianna Fail disasters. Not just in forcing Europe to take its foot off our throats, but on the promises of real political reform, not token changes. So far we have reason to be sceptical.

The dominance of the old guard in the new Cabinet is ominous. The dilution of the promise of a bonfire of 145 quangos in the election manifesto, down to " substantial cuts" in the Programme for Government, is deeply disturbing, suggesting a surrender to Labour's love of semi-states.

The appointment of a Labour Party minister, Brendan Howlin, to monitor public service reform will allow the unions to lean on their puppets in government.

The lack of any promised legislation to remove cronyism from Irish politics suggests that Fianna Fail cronies in the semi-states may soon be replaced by favourites from the Fine Gael tribe and the trade unions.

Even the commitment to Dail reform is looking shabby. The pledge of longer hours sounds fine, but if it is not going to make the Dail more meaningful it will be useless.

There is no mention in the Programme about radical Dail change, abolishing the multi-seat PR system to release TDs from pothole politics, to spend time as legislators.

Is the extraordinary system where ministers are given civil servants to answer their constituency queries to continue?

Ministers have a couple of extra staff looking after their seats. Will the new ministers indulge this old malpractice?

The Programme for Government is as silent on this topic as it is on quangos and cronyism.

The old guard is in the ascendant. A different old guard , but the same culture.

This is no time for partying.