“When our children look into our eyes, I want them to see a future with the kindness and the goodness, the dreams and imagining, the strength and the belief that has passed silently, unobtrusively from mother to daughter, from father to son over the millennia,” said Kenny at the opening of the 31st Dáil on March 9th. So how has the government fared in its first few weeks?
Three weeks on a review of the government’s performance may seem slightly premature. However as the nation learned in previous months, a week is an incredibly long time in politics. With stances on banks, busts and bailouts declared at the ballot boxes the coalition was under pressure to act.
Yet before any action could be taken, the actors themselves had to be chosen. The Cabinet appointments caused a media frenzy as gender inequality became the number one issue with merely two women, Joan Burton and Frances Fitzgerald, listed amongst the fifteen senior ministers. This situation was somewhat remedied by the appointment of four women, Lucinda Creighton, Róisín Shorthall, Jan O’Sullivan and Kathleen Lynch, to junior ministerial posts.
Burtongate then dominated coalition coverage as Joan’s appointment as Minister for Social Protection came under intense scrutiny. Brendan Howlin, a teacher from Wexford, was chosen above the economically focused Labour TD for the Public Expenditure and Reform post. Was Burton betrayed by the boys? The public seemed to think so.
Howlin was amongst the first of the senior figures in the Labour Party to concede that Burton had been disappointed. However, he defended the choices that had been made: “It falls on a party leader to make a discernment on who takes each job and that decision was made,” he stated. Burton denied that she had been disappointed by her appointment to Social Protection, informing RTÉ reporter Charlie Bird that “I was qualified; I am qualified to be a minister in any department in the Government”.
The first act of the new coalition government was one which encouraged faith in their promise for change: a reduction in ministerial pay was announced. At their first meeting, the new cabinet agreed to reduce the Taoiseach’s pay from €214,187 to €200,000, a reduction of six per cent. The Tánaiste’s salary was reduced from €187, 486 to €184,405 whilst government ministers’ salaries were cut by almost €12,000 per year to €187, 283.
Junior ministers of state were subject to a €9,000 pay cut, their salaries reduced from €139,266 to €130,042. Whilst for many this represents positive progress in the political arena, it could be suggested that the cuts may be deemed too little in comparison with those facing Enda’s beloved ‘Paddy’ come coalition Budget day.
Yet another welcome development came in the form of a government decision to cut spending on ministerial transport; all but three members of the cabinet were informed that they would be forced to supply their own cars from May of this year onward.
Only the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will still enjoy the luxury of a State-supplied car with a full-time Garda driver. Other ministers will still be given drivers but the car will have to be supplied by the minister themselves. The new policy will affect former Taoisigh and Presidents who will lose their automatic right to official State-supplied cards and Garda drivers, except on those important State occasions when they are required. This news was widely welcomed by a public who had called for cuts at the top.
Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan left domestic politics behind when they took to the European mainland to discuss the bailout with the Eurozone leaders. Within days, there were arguments with Angela and a spar with Sarkozy on the issue of Irish corporate tax. Kenny and Noonan stood firm in their defence of the tax rate; even former Tánaiste Michael McDowell told The Sunday Independent that a concession on corporate tax would be “political and economic suicide”.
The Irish people backed the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance with 78 per cent of people polled by Quantum Research for The Sunday Independent backing Kenny’s position instead of accepting Sarkozy’s offer of more favourable bailout rates in exchange for corporate tax concessions.
The first St. Patrick’s Day in Washington also proved incredibly successful for the newly appointed leader: Barack Obama announced his intention to visit the Emerald Isle in May of this year. With the Queen’s visit already scheduled, Kenny and Gilmore’s hosting skills will be thoroughly put to the test.
It is simply too early to judge whether or not the government can bring about the change they have promised, but to the everyday observer they seem to be off to a good start. Tús maith, leath oibre?
(University Observer, 2011)