Alison O'Connor: Government has too many cooks, just like 'The Two Popes'

Micheál Martin needs to get on with being Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar needs to realise his place, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan needs to shape up to the job, says Alison O'Connor
Alison O'Connor: Government has too many cooks, just like 'The Two Popes'
Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis in 'The Two Popes'. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Peter Mountain.

It’s a bit like The Two Popes around here — that was the verdict of one senior Fine Gael politician on the tussle going on at the most senior political level in the country — an unseemly game of sharp elbows.

This politician, about to head off on a much-needed holiday, wearily reflected on the last few weeks; how so many situations had descended to the level of shambolic in terms of how the new Government had handled them. “Too many cooks, you could say, or just like The Two Popes,

with the way Leo is lurking around.” In the hit Netflix TV drama, Pope Benedict and the future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church. 

However, the way things have been going around Government Buildings it has been much more sitcom, than sophisticated drama.

Still though, one of the actors simply can’t get used to going from the starring role, to the supporting role. He insists that his trailer, with its big star on the door, remains the same size it always was, that he keeps the best make up artists, and that he is the only star on set who has the blue M&M’s removed from the bowl each time it is replenished. He also spends a lot of time on to his agent whinging about not being as appreciated as he should be.

Having said that the new lead is rusty. He’s been out of the real limelight for a long time. Not only that, a significant number of his team only seem in it for what they can get themselves. They see loyalty as being for others, and refuse to look at the bigger picture. Why didn’t the lead actor sort them out years ago when he had the time?

Alright, alright, enough with the by-now tortuous film set analogies. In a nutshell what we want and need to happen, in this, our real-life drama, is for Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar to pull in his elbows and his ego. In the morning, when he looks in the mirror, he needs to repeat the mantra  — “I am now Number Two”, while Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin needs to work on his positivity mantras, while finding hitherto unknown qualities for keeping his “people” in line. The need for our three- party coalition to get some really good strategic direction has been painfully obvious.

The majority of those around the Cabinet table will have limped exhaustedly towards this particular holiday period. Looking back, they had Brexit to deal with, then there was high-octane general election preparation, then the election itself, then the tortuous coalition negotiations. There was also the pandemic which they had to deal with professionally, but also on a personal level, like the rest of us, with many of the same worries.

For selfish reasons alone we need them to return to work in September refreshed and up for the many tough decisions, unprecedented even, that they face. They will be reflecting on what will happen next with Covid-19  – as Mr Martin reminded us on Tuesday, we’ve seen a terrible human cost, with 2,319 dead across the island from the virus – and how our economy will fare.

“We are in extraordinary circumstances,” reflected one Cabinet member ahead of the break, reflecting on Covid, but also the performance of the Government thus far. “It is not like we’re coming back in September to a normal environment. So much can change with the virus in a matter of days, not to mention weeks. We will have Brexit breathing down our necks. There is also the US election, even if Biden is elected, he won’t be an Obama. There is a lot happening in the world. Will the schools re-open as planned, will people take time off when they get cold or flu symptoms, as they are asked to, how will that affect productivity?” 

There is also the economic riddle, directly related to holidays and staycationing. How much of the frenzied economic activity all along the west coast is making up for business falling off a cliff along the east coast, in Dublin, and other city centres? The suburbs and shopping centres appear to be doing OK, but you only need to walk down the almost empty mains street of a city to see retail staff inside shops staring back out at you. Then there is the issue of the money saved by people who maintained their income during the lockdown. How much of it are they spending now whether it’s on holidays, carrying out house renovations and extensions, or buying new cars?

As of now no one is sure what is really happening and how much consumer recovery there has been with these new spending patterns as a result of Covid and the lockdown. Is the west coast offsetting the east, is the equivalent amount being spent? We just don’t know.

Yet by the time the particular pieces of this economic jigsaw have fallen into place, we will be in an unknown Covid place. The signs don’t look too good at the moment, rather disheartening here with virus levels rising, and seriously deteriorating elsewhere. How, as a Government, do you make plans with any sort of long-term economic outlook in these circumstances? But that is exactly what will have to happen, with budget preparations already under way.

It seems a little ridiculous to be pointing out these circumstances to those who are closest to the action. The inbox each of them will be returning to in September is enough to make anyone flinch.

But on the evidence of the recent weeks, the writing on the wall does need to be pointed out. So once more with feeling – Mr Martin needs to get on with being Taoiseach. Mr Varadkar needs to realise his place. Last, but not least, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan needs to shape up to the job. To do that requires an acceptance of the blindingly obvious, that the Green party is populated by those who love the environment, who like to grow and to knit, and are concerned for the marginalised in society. But the party agreed to go into government, and is therefore involved in grown- up politics. Grown-up political action needs to be taken when transgressions take place.

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