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Conor Lenihan: How idealism and ambition make a toxic mix in new TDs

The scenes in the Dail yesterday were good- humoured and, hopefully, a sign that the serious business of building economic recovery is now under way.

Over the past two years a poisonous narrative of blame, recession, emigration and unemployment has done much to induce a sense of crisis and despair.

The Fine Gael-Labour Government has the biggest mandate or majority ever and it needs to lead with confidence in order to give heart to the public.


Fears abound at an international level about future country-level defaults, with real foreboding among domestic business people that the credit scarcity is never going to be solved and may actually be getting worse.

Micheal Martin did well to acknowledge the strength of the Fine Gael mandate and the banter between him and Enda Kenny was good- natured.

Enda's wife Fionnuala worked in the 1980s Fianna Fail press office and acquitted herself very well. Clearly Enda has learnt a lot from his wife and was open enough to acknowledge it.

The only problem now for this Coalition is how it will handle its restive and ambitious new backbenchers.

Nearly 50pc of the TDs elected this time out are new, freshly minted to politics at this level.

It is sometimes hard to explain the toxic mixture of both idealism and huge ambition that a newly elected TD has when they first enter the gates of Leinster House.

The scenes at the count centre, the closeness to voters and the determination to honour the multiplicity of personal pledges to both activists and voters makes for a heady mix upon, often quite young shoulders.

Both Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have deliberately decided to be conservative in terms of their choices for the Cabinet positions. Older, more experienced party people have been favoured.

The average age of the Cabinet is around the same as its predecessor, a source of real complaint among the Fianna Fail backbenches prior to the election and arguably one of the reasons the party got such a trouncing at the polls.

There is a sense that the usual time-servers are being given their chance and perhaps their experience will be valuable, given the challenges the country faces.


Clearly the Minister of State appointments will give both leaders the opportunity to put some pressure on the more experienced TDs that won out yesterday.

However there will be strong voter disappointment, in particular, among those who voted in their droves for "change", because the line- up and the policy platform do not appear to be genuinely radical.

Already Fine Gael spokesmen are playing down the prospects of a serious re-negotiation of the arrangements with the ECB and the IMF.

By splitting public service reform and public spending into a different ministry, the new Government has effectively weakened the new Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

It makes no sense to weaken Noonan at a time when both the public and business sector expectation is for robust changes in the public sector.

Some will see the invisible hand of Liberty Hall pulling the strings on this particular decision to award this ministry to the Labour Party.

Yesterday was about the joy of those new TDs and their families stepping onto the big national stage.

In my own case the first day in Leinster House was hugely memorable.


It is a historic setting and the sight of so many senior and respected political figures in the same chamber as yourself reinforces that personal sense of real achievement.

Not a lot of people get there, and quite a few of them talk themselves out of the place.

Conor Lenihan is a former Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. He served for 14 years as a Dail Deputy