Events conspire to deliver agreeable Coalition news
IT MAY sound trite to say, but it is worth repeating that this Government will be defined by how it deals with our fiscal and banking crisis.
It was on the back of this crisis that this Coalition was elected. It was the competing promises which Fine Gael and Labour made about how the crisis could be solved which determined their respective strength in the Dáil and, ultimately, within the Government.
It was always going to be impossible for the parties and for the Labour Party, in particular, to retain the levels of support they had when they first came to power because they have to make unpalatable decisions necessary to tackle the crisis. However, their confused communication about budgetary issues has to some extent further eroded their position.
The Government’s news management for the last few days contrasts sharply with the mess they made of things earlier in the week. Last weekend a number of well-sourced stories appeared suggesting that the commitments to preserve income tax rates and basic social welfare rates might have to be abandoned in next December’s budget.
On last Sunday evening’s The Week in Politics Pat Rabbitte talked about how red lines should not be drawn at this stage around any tax or spending headings. On Monday morning stories surfaced about how a projected half a billion overrun in the Health Service Executive budget would require premium payments to employees in a manner which might undermine the Croke Park pact. That morning Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar suggested to Newstalk that increment payments in the Civil Service should not be paid next year.
His remarks caused such a furore that Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore felt compelled to deliver a public rebuke to him, bemoaning the fact that some Ministers felt it necessary every Monday to share their thoughts on the airwaves about Croke Park and related topics.
Then came leaked details of a European Commission report suggesting that the State could no longer afford the universal provision of child benefits or free travel and TV licence for all over-65s.
This week was also marked by the leaking of tense correspondence between Ministers from both parties.
The more significant of these was a letter from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin demanding that Minister for Health James Reilly personally get more involved in addressing the overrun in the HSE budget. This formal admonishment suggests Howlin felt that Reilly had not being doing enough to date.
The fact that this letter made its way into the public domain also suggests an effort by Howlin, as bookkeeper-in-chief, to leverage public pressure with his other Cabinet colleagues upon Reilly. A leaked letter from Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte warning against a watershed on television advertising of cheese seems similarly designed to force Rabbitte’s hand.