Fine Gael has much more to do as it faces into 2014 elections
Taoiseach Enda Kenny should get out more often. His assertion at the Fine Gael Ardfheis that he would not allow the Garda Síochána or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission “to be undermined in the eyes of the Irish people” might chime with party activists but it does not reflect the public view. Weeks of controversy over deleted penalty points, reported bugging and Garda discipline has damaged public confidence and convinced the electorate that extensive change is needed. The sooner that process is initiated, the better.
With local and European elections due within three months, the focus of the ardfheis was firmly on the economy. The party had plenty to celebrate. Sixty thousand new jobs had been created within the past year and Richard Bruton was planning additional measures. Confidence was in the air. The cost of Government borrowing continued to fall. Michael Noonan talked about future growth rates of 2 and 3 per cent and of reducing tax rates for middle-income earners. The days of troika-dictated austerity were a fading memory, although the need for fiscal discipline remained.
While Fine Gael maintains a comfortable lead in opinion polls, the recently improved showing by Sinn Féin – helped by strong performances by Mary Lou McDonald on the accountability of the Garda and charitable groups – will cause concern. Uncertainty over whether economic progress will be a reliable party vote-getter in these elections, dominated by local and regional personalities, remains.
That is all the more reason for the Coalition parties to embrace a broader agenda. Reform of political structures involving the appointment of judges and the boards of State companies is long overdue. A public debate on reforms planned for the health system is also required. The Government has performed well in revitalising the economy and broadening the tax base. The challenge posed by entrenched vested interests to necessary administrative reforms remains.