A reshuffle, but we really need change

Cabinet reshuffles are often compared to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and the big question is whether the promotion of five new ministers, and the historic inclusion of four women in its A-team will be enough to get the country back on track before the next general election in 2016 — if the Coalition lasts that long.

It is a daunting challenge for an administration perceived as drifting without a rudder for months.

After dragging on for seven weeks, when it finally happened, the reshuffle was inexplicably delayed for several hours yesterday amid wild rumours of internal power struggles — and political blood on the floor.

A forerunner of troubles? With personnel changes at 10 government departments, the political game of musical chairs saw a significant reshuffle in terms of numbers of ministerial changes, but hardly heralds a radical departure from relatively conservative policy directions.

Members of the new team can be sure that, with water charges and property tax coming down the line, along with swathes of people over the age of 70 losing their medical cards, there will no honeymoon.

Eyes will now focus on the performance of the new Cabinet faces — Paschal Donohoe (Transport), Alan Kelly (junior Jobs), Jan O’Sullivan (Education), Alex White (Communications) and Heather Humphreys (Arts).

Gone is a disappointed but not surprised Pat Rabbitte, while a happy Phil Hogan joins the gravy train of the EU Commission in Brussels. Perhaps the most surprising twist of all is Leo Varadkar’s move from Transport to Health, a poisoned chalice if ever there was one.

He replaces Dr James Reilly whose handling of that portfolio was riddled with controversy and who will now move to Children and Youth.

Also a GP, Dr Varadkar is a refreshingly independent politician who calls a spade a spade, and is guaranteed to make headlines in Health.

Labour’s failure to secure the key jobs department is a serious setback for new Tánaiste Joan Burton, who holds onto her present portfolio.

Despite all the guff about politics being a collective ‘team’ game, the shape of the Cabinet represents a victory for Fine Gael and defeat for Labour.

The sacking of Kerry TD Jimmy Deenihan has been softened by the consolation of being moved to the Taoiseach’s office. By tagging Defence onto Simon Coveney’s Agriculture portfolio, Mr Kenny has confirmed the Government’s view of the armed forces as a Cinderella department.

His pledge that each minister will promote jobs and give better support to working families is rather vague.

Key Government priorities include building 25,000 affordable houses a year by 2020, better deals for working families and low and middle-income workers, an entrepreneur-friendly scheme, faster planning laws, as well as tourism and development incentives aimed at boosting employment in cities, town and villages across the country.

What people really want to see is an end to the practice of ministers shooting themselves in the foot. Other popular demands that old and new Cabinet members alike would be foolhardy to ignore are: genuine reforms rather than emergency repairs in the ailing health service; root-and-branch overhaul of a Garda force lacking personnel and resources, and steadily losing contact with the public; transformation of an education system where teachers oppose change and the pupil-teacher ratio is among the worst in Europe.

But above all, people want this Government to deliver tangible benefits, which the public fully deserves, by softening the Coalition’s grinding regime of austerity.


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