A lot done, but so much more to do

Political Correspondent Mary Regan says the Coalition’s review falls short in terms of accountability and what has not been achieved

WHEN it launched the Programme for Government one year ago, the Coalition made it clear that its main task was to fix the economy and create jobs. Pretty much everything else could wait.

“The Government will get our economy moving, restore confidence, fix our banking system and support the protection and creation of jobs. The success of our economic plans will lay the foundation for the rest of our agenda for change,” it said.

The Coalition’s self-assessment of its performance shows that while it has brought about economic stability, there are few tangible achievements to point to in the area of job creation.

The “annual report” of the programme, published yesterday, has the subtitle Year 1: Stability suggesting that its main task in the first year has been to steady the ship.

“Twelve months ago, when we came into office, this country was on the edge of the cliff,” said Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

“Today, as we stand before you, it is still windy, but we are no longer on the edge of the cliff. We have pulled the country back.”

The Taoiseach said the “chaos” of previous years had been brought to an end and, while there is still a long way to go “we have made a solid start”.

The Coalition’s self-assessment falls far short of what Enda Kenny had promised in terms of accountability of ministers, and fails to point out much of what has not been achieved.

At the announcement of the Action Plan on Jobs last month, Enda Kenny was asked how many jobs had been created since he came into office.

He said he’d publish “a report on the actions taken by Government close to the date of being a year in office and we’ll have accurate figures on the number of jobs created and the number that have been lost”.

But there was no such figure forthcoming yesterday.

As overnight queues for the jobs abroad expo in Cork offered a stark reminder of the need for more solid and urgent action in the area of job creation, the only achievements the Government could point to were that a pathway to work programme was being “rolled out”, that a jobs action plan was “being implemented” and that training programmes are being “reformed”.

Another policy promise that was seen as significant in the electoral success of both parties was to burn bank bondholders.

The Programme for Government said “enabling provisions in legislation may be necessary to extend the scope of bank liability restructuring to include unsecured, unguaranteed senior bonds.”

Yesterday’s document attempts to brush over this. It’s dealt with on the one — out of 44 pages — which deals with broken promises, or what is politely described as: “Commitments under review”.

It says compulsory burden sharing was considered in the first half of 2011. “Government discussions with the troika resulted in a change in the policy approach with the priority now to seek a reduction in the cost to Irish taxpayers of the long-term financing of the bail out of Anglo Irish Bank’s creditors.”

Other commitments under review include abolishing upward only rent reviews, VAT exemption for companies that export more than 90% of their output and the development of a college campus at Grangegorman.

There are a further 43 pages on what has been achieved, broken down into four parts: economy, reform, fairness and progress.

The Programme for Government contained a commitment to seek a cheaper interest rate on the €85bn bailout loan and this is one of the main achievements pointed to yesterday.

The opposition parties would argue that this would have happened anyway, because other bailout countries were getting reductions. But yesterday’s report states that successful negotiations have led to interest rate reductions which will save €10bn over the lifetime of the loans.

The Coalition had promised €3bn in cuts and taxes in its first budget. In the event, a €3.8bn adjustment is being made this year. But yesterday’s document pointed out that it had kept the main promises, including no increases in income tax and no reduction on primary welfare payments.

It also reversed cuts to the minimum wage and reviewed the universal social charge to the benefit of nearly 330,000 people.

In the area of political reform, the Government has not delivered on its commitment to ban corporate donations, cut junior ministers or legislate on the area of cabinet confidentiality.

It has, however, increased Dáil sitting times, although many TDs claim that Friday sittings are of little value.

The Coalition has also moved to increase the participation of women in politics by introducing legislation on gender quotas, even though many do not welcome such positive-discrimination measures.

With the economy and reform considered to be their own main achievements, every other policy area — education, justice, health and housing — is put under the banner of “fairness”.

There was no mention of its promise to legislate for same sex marriage, or third level fees or home repossessions.

As for the headline programme for government promise that: “We will ensure the Government is seen to be held to account,” perhaps an indication of its delivery lies in the format of yesterdays’ assessment.

The Taoiseach told The Late Late Show last May that: “I’m starting the report card already. I’m going to sit down with every minister, with their minister of state, the secretary general and senior official... and I want to know how they measure up.”

There were no individual ministers or no individual department’s mentioned in yesterday’s report.

Just a series of bullet points with an overall message: We know things are bad and we have a long way to go. But stick with us, we are getting there.


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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