Challenges for ministers in key areas

The Coalition’s ‘to do’ list will be hammered out by Enda Kenny and Joan Burton this week. Key challenges remain for some departments, especially where new ministers are appointed, writes Political Reporter Juno McEnroe

Jobs

Irrespective of who wins this portfolio, the key is getting people back to work and job creation. There are hopes that the Coalition’s target of 100,000 new jobs by 2016 might even be exceeded.

But demands for a recovery beyond major urban hubs in Dublin, Cork and Galway must be addressed. This requires co-operation between agencies, regional enterprise plans and more jobs in those areas.

Proposals from Labour’s side for a low pay commission to examine minimal wage levels will have to be addressed. But Fine Gael warns that any ‘living wage’ model should not jeopardise the actual creation of jobs, which are “more important” than hourly rates.

Other obstacles still to be overcome in the department include the passing of legislation on trade union recognition and collective bargaining, as well as new media merger laws.

Health

Free GP care for under-sixes has already been pushed back this year until the autumn. Both parties want its roll-out resolved with GPs, many of whom are opposed to the initiative. Extending free care to older groups will be a key priority in the remaining 18 months of the coalition — no matter which minister is in charge.

This, and other reforms, are also dependent on what happens to the health budget. As of last week, there was a €200m over-run, with some predicting it could be half a billion euro by year’s end. Enda Kenny is known to be keen to resolve this problem. A new minister can expect a very focused list of ‘to dos’.

This will also include resolving the medical card debacle. A new regime of basing entitlements for cards on medical conditions rather than financial means has yet to be decided. There is also the complex issue of patients having their discretionary cards restored, which is under way.

Education

The thorny issue of third-level fees will need to be dealt with in the lifetime of this Coalition. Colleges are crying out for funds but students say they were deceived by the outgoing minister, Ruairi Quinn, about promises not to change student costs.

Pressing ahead with the new Junior Cycle also looks increasingly problematic, especially given teacher protestations that they have not been trained.

Despite Mr Quinn’s ambition to reform the patronage of Irish schools, this reform may be put on the long finger if the department is handed over to a Fine Gael minister because of concerns raised by TDs from that party.

Transport

Resolving the €760m aviation pension deficit for Dublin Airport Authority and Aer Lingus staff has been a complex challenge. Aer Lingus has agreed to pay almost €200m to help plug the gap but some obstacles must still be overcome.

The senior minister in this department will have to keep an eye on continuing disagreements in CIÉ companies. Recent rows have erupted over Bus Éireann’s control of the school bus scheme as well as the need for Irish Rail cost savings.

Getting road death numbers down again will be a focus, given the first increase in fatalities last year since 2005.

Environment

The contentious issue of water charges will really come into play once charging begins in October and bills start to hit homes in January. Questions about the level of charges, exemptions and Irish Water, remain. The new environment minister will be left handling these.

Demand for housing also continues to push rental and purchase prices up in Dublin. The new minister here will also need to deal with the lack of social housing and calls for rent controls.

Recent concerns about high levels of homelessness from campaign groups will again be raised, especially coming into the autumn and winter months.

The minister will also have to focus on climate change plans, legislation on this and how Ireland will meet its EU commitments by 2020.


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