A lot done but an awful lot left to do - Counting down to an election

LIKE an ambitious business person who pushed the boat out to try to impress wavering clients with, say, a corporate box and an excellent meal sluiced down with enviable wines at Croke Park yesterday, and who realises that the project may not have been entirely successful and is quietly adding up the considerable cost of the adventure, objective voters — there may be a few — are beginning to run the slide rule over the performance of our coalition Government.

When all issues, all inherited difficulties and opportunities, all promises made, some abandoned some delivered, are considered does it pass muster? Should it be re-elected?

Of course the answer must be — even if the air is full of pre-election, pre-budget kite flying and talk of when the Taoiseach might go to the country — that it is far too early to say. If this Government, like the Japanese did against the humbled Springboks on Saturday in one of sport’s greatest upsets, play courageously and with real conviction until the very final moment, then their exam card might look very different to how it looks this morning, a day before the Dáil resumes after its summer break.

The downside of fighting on for that last-minute possibility equation is that those self-interest groups opposed to reform promised, if not pursued with stamina or convincing force by this Government, are emboldened by the idea that they need only stonewall for another few months and their status quo will prevail.

This is true on the very important, indicative issue of promised changes around school patronage. This issue, one in which elements of the Catholic Church are being profoundly anti-democratic, sees parents of non-Catholic children struggling to find a place in a primary education system, especially in urban areas, that discriminates against them in a fundamental and unjust way — in a way that we would criticise if it happened elsewhere. We might even propose a UN motion of censure.

Equally, the legal profession has ridden out the storm, and the reforms suggested by the long-gone troika are as remote as Alan Shatter is at a cabinet meeting. Health reform still seems a prize beyond the reach of any Government — there are so many issues and deeply embedded self-interest groups that they make a war on just two or three fronts seem a pleasant boy scout jamboree.

Last week’s back-to-the-future engagement with public sector unions on pay “restoration” scratched an old would too — cutting the pension levy imposed during the economic crisis just restores the pension apartheid dividing this society. This seems a calculated risk based on the simple and unprincipled fact public sector workers can bring a leverage to bear on this issue that private sector workers cannot.

Like every western government facing an election ours must balance conservatism and the growing hunger for change that fosters social equity and challenges the concentration of wealth and the evolving work environment where workers’ living standards are on a downward spiral. Time to grow some, as they say in the movies — or in Japan.


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