Shortall reflects Labour's growing sense of unease
INSIDE POLITICS:Some parts of Róisín Shortall’s speech that could have come from a script by Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett
SHORTLY AFTER becoming Taoiseach, Enda Kenny told Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show that he was keeping a “report card” on the performance of every Minister in Cabinet. Kenny was wearing his “Paddy never makes a promise he can’t keep” expression at the time, but when the commitment resurfaced at the end of the Government’s first year in office, a spokesman said firmly: “There are no report cards.”
Like the political journalist who famously said about a controversial story, “It was true when I wrote it”, one suspects the Taoiseach meant what he said at the time (he repeated the promise some months later). Kenny wanted to convey a message on a high-profile TV programme that his Government would be more accountable than its unhappy and ill-fated predecessor.
The Taoiseach hadn’t thought it through but, when he finally did so, he clearly realised that populism isn’t always good politics. If the former primary teacher had gone ahead and published assessments of his Cabinet (or worse still, if he had drawn them up and they were leaked, or extracted from him under the Freedom of Information Act), he would have come under pressure to get rid of the ones who got low marks.
However, he couldn’t have fired any Labour Ministers without Eamon Gilmore’s agreement and, if anyone in Fine Gael got a lower rating than a Labour colleague, that would have caused a major row in his own party. In other words, there would have been a right old mess, which Kenny managed to avoid by quietly dropping his foolish Friday- night promise. The man from Mayo has a healthy survival instinct.
This week, however, what amounted to a report card on the Fine Gael Minister for Health was issued in the Dáil by one of his two Labour Ministers of State, Róisín Shortall. In the debate on the motion of no confidence in James Reilly, she failed to mention his name even once, but her mark on his report card looked very like nought out of 10.
Had Shortall voted in favour of the motion of no confidence, it couldn’t have been much worse for the Coalition. She was followed by the other Labour junior, Kathleen Lynch, who said the Minister was “doing a tremendous job under appalling circumstances”.
Small wonder that a Labour TD was heard to say next morning with regard to the Shortall speech: “We are supposed to be a political party, not a relationship support team.” The fragile connection between politics and reality was evident in the chamber when Gilmore insisted there was “a strong team in the Department of Health”.
Keeping the show on the road is clearly important to the Labour leadership but there are others in the party who look upon the Coalition with Fine Gael as a business arrangement that isn’t going all that well – in the area of health in particular.