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The place for Ministers to influence government policy is within the Cabinet, not the pages of the Sunday Independent

Posted By Veronica On January 15, 2012 @ 6:05 pm In Uncategorized | 5 Comments

It’s hard to gauge how strong and stable this government is. A Red C poll for Paddy Power last week suggests the public haven’t been too perturbed by the political and media shenanigans surrounding December’s hair shirt budget. As Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein each lost a point in their ratings,  Fine Gael went up a point. So did Labour. Both government parties are now just three points short, respectively, of where they were in last year’s General Election.

The Government enjoys a rock solid parliamentary majority, which looks likely to hold through thick and thin.  And the best prognosis for 2012 is that whilst things may not get any worse, they’re unlikely to get any better. So in good news terms ,‘thin’ is most likely to be the political diet .

 In the past week too, though, there have been some fairly ominous signals that all is not well at Executive level, which must be a cause for concern to both the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and, perhaps more particularly, the Labour leader and Tanaiste,  Eamon Gilmore since it is within the Labour Cabinet ranks that the main wobbles have begun to appear.

Hence, there was the spectacle of one Labour Cabinet Minister, Pat Rabbitte, leading a backbench delegation to the office of another Labour Cabinet Minister, Ruairi Quinn, to tell him that he had to reverse planned Budget cuts affecting the DEIS schools.  Last time anyone looked, Rabbitte and Quinn, both long term parliamentarians with a fair bit of Cabinet experience between the two of them, are serving in the same Cabinet? The Education Minister’s raft of cutbacks were presumably approved by the whole Cabinet? They were not a solo-run on the Minister’s part. 

So just  how appropriate is it that a fellow Cabinet Minister leads a delegation of protesting backbenchers to his office to tell him how to do his job properly? Was Minsiter Rabbittee away the day the Education cuts were discussed? Did he fail to ask the right questions? Or is there something else going on here?

Even more bizarre, the articles in today’s Sunday Independent, based on a long and fire-cosy interview of Joan Burton by Daniel McConnell. Among other fairly hair-raising comments, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton,  also divisively and unnecessarily dissed on her Cabinet and constituency colleague, Leo Varadkar, which is always politically risky. Next she broke with government policy on the need for a second bailout for Ireland ( that everyone knows will likely happen anyway either through a new package or an extension of the existing one) in a way that old Sir Humphrey of ‘ Yes, Minister’ fame could only have described as ‘unfortunate’.

The vast majority of the population of the state want this government to succeed. If opinion polls are anything to go by, citizens are prepared to stick with the government irrespective of any mistakes and misjudgements individual members of the Cabinet may make, thus far anyway. The ranks of  backbench government TDs similarly. The reason is simple: there is no alternative. The weakness of this government, though, is being exposed at the top. 

Ministers whose personal vanity can’t take being challenged on mistakes that they make – like Burton’s disability cuts or Quinn’s cuts to DEIS schools, or the rest of misjudgements that might be counted against the lot of them even at this stage – and who cannot respect the normal protocols of Cabinet will, sooner or later, put the whole enterprise at risk.  Like it or not, the place for a Government Minister to influence the direction of government policy is within the Cabinet not through the columns of the Sunday Independent.

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