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Andrew Lynch: No backbone, no compassion and no excuse Barry

Barry Andrews has always had a reputation as something of a cold fish.

The Minister of State for Children, who comes from one of the oldest political dynasties in the country, has a formal, slightly aloof manner that is completely in contrast to his cousin Ryan Tubridy or his brother David McSavage.

Even so, the well-spoken Dun Laoghaire TD has long been regarded as one of the brightest young talents in Fianna Fail -- maybe even a future party leader.

That is why Andrews' response to the tragic and disturbing death of 18-year-old Tracey Fay has been so depressing to watch.

At a time when sensitivity and compassion are called for at an official level, the minister has only been able to offer a litany of feeble excuses and denials of responsibility.

Instead of exercising his political muscle to protect the most vulnerable children in the country, he appears to have gone native in the Department of Health -- and, as Mary Harney could tell you, it is pretty hard to recover your reputation after that.

From the moment this story broke, Andrews has been trying and failing to minimise its full impact.

His consistent line is that the report into Tracey's death was left unpublished in order to protect the privacy of her family.

In fact, her uncle has said that he fully supports Alan Shatter's decision to make the document public -- and since Tracey died in January 2002 and the report was finalised in December 2008, it appears to have been gathering dust in the minister's office for a good 15 months.

Since then we've learned that of the 23 minors who have died in state care since 2000, five have never even had their cases reviewed. At the same time, of the 47 recommendations made in the Fay report, only one has been implemented.

Andrews insists that there is no cover-up involved and we have to take him at his word -- but at the very worst it amounts to a shocking example of incompetence.

Abused and neglected as a child, Tracey Fay was delivered into the hands of the State in order to protect her safety. She then fell through the cracks of a child protection system that is clearly underfunded, dominated by crisis management rather than early intervention and crippled by a culture of secrecy. She ended up dying alone in the gutter -- and the really frightening thing is that she may not be the last young Irish person to suffer a similar fate.

All of this could not be happening at a worse time for the young and ambitious minister.

He has been widely tipped for promotion in Brian Cowen's forthcoming reshuffle, possibly to a full cabinet position. At the age of just 42, this would put him in pole position to some day achieve what his father David never quite managed -- the leadership of FF.

If this controversy continues, however, then promoting Andrews would not just be politically risky -- it might look like a calculated insult to the families of the victims who were so tragically let down by the State.

Barry Andrews is not a heartless man. He needs to understand, however, that to get on in politics you sometimes need emotional intelligence as much as cold-hearted logic. He risks ending up in that most tragic category of all -- politicians with a great future behind them.