After the hurdles of two turbulent years, can this government go the distance?


There probably won’t be a cake for Micheál Martin to celebrate his two years as Taoiseach – the Corkman is notoriously vigilant about his diet – but the fact that the tripartite government is still standing may be reason why d others give themselves up.

While many have erased 2020 from their memories, it is important to remember the context in which this government came to power. It was only two days later that pubs that served food were reopened amid Covid shutdowns and some 827,000 people had their incomes supported by state pandemic supports.

Inauspicious start

This atmosphere and the difficult circumstances were bad enough, but the first weeks in power of the government were ominous, to put it mildly.

First, Mr Martin found himself unwanted in North Cork after he snubbed Michael Moynihan for a junior minister role.

Mr Moynihan fumed he ‘took a lot of shit’ for the new Taoiseach and was surprised he wasn’t included

The sacking of an agriculture minister in Barry Cowen and the resignation of another in Dara Calleary took place before summer clothes were even put away and the reopening roadmap proved to be a inaccurate reading of the land as the term “wet pubs” entered the public lexicon. .

In October talk of closures increased but schools remained open and Mr Martin spoke of a ‘meaningful Christmas’. This too descended into chaos as plans were torn up and the hospitality sector shut down at short notice on Christmas Eve.

The Taoiseach spoke of a ‘meaningful Christmas’ but those plans were torn apart as the hospitality sector closed on Christmas Eve without notice. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

In addition to tensions over how and when announcements were made, the government sometimes wavered.

While internally the level of this dissent has always been downplayed, some members of the public wondered how long the historic working arrangements would last or even continue.

On the second anniversary, most parties in government believe the government is more likely than not to last the full term

Relations between the three parties are described as collegial and constructive, but no one has any illusions about the nature of politics at this level – at some point each of these parties will have to face the public and the other at election time.

To this end, each party is working to claim its rights to the achievements of this government.

Fianna Fail

For Fianna Fáil, much of her reputation has been placed on health and housing. Recognizing that these were the two key issues in the 2020 election, the party actively wanted to take on the heaviest and most important portfolios of this term, knowing that being able to sell itself as a party that had addressed these issues would be a powerful weapon then when the country goes to the polls.

His record so far? It would be fair to say this has been a mixed bag.

The general consensus is that the management of Covid-19, although beset with communication problems and other problems, was at least sound

However, while Stephen Donnelly has spoken a good play on the transformations needed in the health service, the key questions remain.

Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health: The main problems remain in the health service despite all the rhetoric about transformation.  Photo: Damien Storan
Stephen Donnelly, Minister of Health: The main problems remain in the health service despite all the rhetoric about transformation. Photo: Damien Storan

A 350 million euro plan to reduce waiting lists is not being felt on the ground according to doctors, questions remain over the commitment to Sláintecare, and regional problems such as hospitals in Navan and Limerick have the potential to trip up the government.

In housing, Darragh O’Brien does not hesitate to praise the merits of Housing For All, his flagship plan to deal with the housing crisis. He’ll tell you he’s fully funded – for the first time in state history, no less – that he’s created a new kind of tenure, and that he’ll dramatically improve the housing supply. social and affordable.

However, as notices of commencement are on the rise and schemes under the government’s affordable banner are launched, house prices and rents remain on an upward trajectory as supply is significantly low.

Fine Gael

For Fine Gael, their early handling of the pandemic won them a wave of goodwill that has since dissipated almost entirely. He will highlight the mass of legislation on justice, workers’ rights and strengthening the social protection system against Covid and Ukraine-related shocks, but the party has been in power for 11 years and the public is weary.

green party

Meanwhile, the Greens will be happiest with their lot in the first two years of the coalition government.

Struggling in its early days, even the loss of the whip for two TDs on national motherhood hasn’t sparked panic in recent months

Frankly and privately, many Greens accept that any electoral backlash against this government is focused on them, which means they are focused on securing as many legislative victories as possible by then.

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan: With sectoral emissions targets to be announced shortly, the Greens face a major test.  Jason Clarke Photo
Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan: With sectoral emissions targets to be announced shortly, the Greens face a major test. Jason Clarke Photo

They make a point of mentioning the government’s climate action plan, the reduction of public transport costs, the freezing of childcare costs to accompany funding for the sector and an innovative basic income scheme for artists .

However, with sectoral emissions targets due to be announced in the coming weeks, the Greens face a major test of their mettle. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are reluctant to force certain sectors – agriculture in particular – into higher cuts, will the Green Party keep its cool or toe the line?

So far, the criticism of the party has been that it backfired on issues such as the aforementioned hospital and the Ceta trade deal. Would he be prepared to do the same on an environmental issue?

What destination now?

However, with two years of delay, the question is where are we?

In the short term, this government faces a perfect storm in the coming months as energy prices – and possibly availability – come under severe pressure over the winter.

Add to that the re-entry of Covid into the national conversation, the unabated war in Ukraine, and a budget that will aim to achieve real cost savings in childcare, higher education, and day-to-day expenses, while retaining the necessary financial firepower in the event of a recession or other external shock to the economy.

Simple stuff, when you say it like that, really.

Rotary Taoiseach

Beyond the complexities of public finances, there is the small problem of the rotating position of the Taoiseach, which will be taken over by Leo Varadkar in December.

Leo Varadkar will return to Taoiseach at the end of the year.
Leo Varadkar will return to Taoiseach at the end of the year.

That will come with a cabinet reshuffle, in which case Mr. Varadkar will have some choices to make, among other things.

Major party figures such as Paschal Donohoe and Simon Coveney could be sacrificed in a bid to spruce up Fine Gael’s image ahead of an election

However, with his party’s polls stubbornly low, is he likely to antagonize House Party members who might plot against him?

At Fianna Fáil, Mr. Martin’s move will be closely monitored. He said he would become Tánaiste, but not what ministry he would like to hold – or for how long.

While the Taoiseach says he will lead the party in the next election, the emergence of a clear successor in 2023 would make that increasingly unlikely.

With 40% of the mandate of this government, we are left to paraphrase an Irish political cliche – much talked about, more speculated.

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