Every government faces challenges, but this administration faces unprecedented ones | #socialmedia


Soaring energy and food prices, a housing crisis, a healthcare system creaking at the seams, a climate emergency, an ever-present pandemic, and now war, and even the prospect of worse.

When the three coalition parties sat down to thrash out a programme for government nearly two years ago, Covid-19 was the most pressing issue facing the country.

The biggest tasks involved protecting public health, getting people back to work and reopening businesses. “We recognise that the task is immense,” the tripartite agreement signed in June 2020 declared.

‘There is a long way to go yet. Nearly three years. It is not insurmountable’

If the challenges were immense then, they are colossal now.

“We are going to be hard-pressed to address all of that,” a Fine Gael source admits when the list of what lies ahead is read out. But, they add: “There is a long way to go yet. Nearly three years. It is not insurmountable.”

There is a view, particularly within Fine Gael given that the party has been in power now for 11 years, that the Government has done well on the catastrophes that are not of its own making: Brexit, the pandemic, and then Ukraine.

The handling of such issues will be remembered come the next election: “The people depend more on security and safety and something they can rely on,” a Fine Gael TD says.

That rosy view is not shared quite as much in Fianna Fáil. “People expect the Government to be competent,” says one senior figure, adding that it’s hard to declare how well one did in a pandemic that left such heartache behind.

And it has not worked before. Harping on about Brexit did not captivate the public in February 2020. It is not just in the military that leaders can win a battle but lose the war, after all.

Simple fear

Government backbenchers have a simple fear. If Election Next is fought on housing, or health, then they lose. Even privately, though, ministers tend to put on a braver face when asked the same.

The numbers speak for themselves, though. Nearly 900,000 people are on some form of hospital waiting list. Consultants say it could take up to 14 years to clear the backlog.

Meanwhile, at least 35,000 homes are needed every year, but only 20,443 were completed last year – even though the number of planning permissions has begun to exceed the annual needs, if they are realised.

All of this is without mentioning the economy, the childcare crisis, the looming pay sector talks, the new carbon ceilings and the uncertain future around the coronavirus.

Then, at the end of this year, a political first: the planned changeover of taoiseach and a potential reshuffle.

It cannot be overstated that with each passing week and month, anxiety levels rise over an end to the Garda investigation into Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s leaking of a GP pay deal to a friend.

Last year, that concern was largely concentrated among the Fine Gael party faithful, but now members of Fianna Fáil and the Greens are wringing their hands, too.

“Fine Gael needs to have the Leo issue sorted,” says one Fianna Fáil TD bluntly, fearing internal pressures if it drags on much longer. The Greens agree: “It makes things complicated. There is genuine concern here,” said one

Yet politicians can do nothing. The gardaí must finish their work. Then, the Director of Public Prosecutions must decide what happens next. No one knows when one action will end, or when the other will even begin.

Despite this, and the widespread belief that a prosecution is impossible on the basis of everything known, the expectation remains that Varadkar will reclaim the office of taoiseach.

Reshuffle

So, that leaves the ministerial reshuffle to come.

Varadkar has given no thought to it, and will not before the end of summer, it is understood. But while he might not be thinking about it, almost everyone else around the Cabinet table is.

Advisers are jamming their ministers’ diaries full, conscious that their performance this year could determine whether they have a job next year or not

Advisers are jamming their ministers’ diaries full, conscious that their performance this year could determine whether they have a job next year or not. Whispers pass about who might be in, or out.

But all is just speculation now. So what could happen? When Micheál Martin becomes tánaiste, some of his TDs believe he will also take over at the Department of Foreign Affairs or Higher Education.

Either option leaves Varadkar with a headache, since it would mean a move for Simon Coveney or Simon Harris. Or, Martin could replace Varadkar in Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Far simpler.

The Department of Finance will switch over, however, since there is a belief that one party should not hold this portfolio and the Department of Taoiseach at the same time.



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