Opposition gains initiative in post-troika vacuum
Opinion: Government needs to regain control of political agenda ahead of elections
‘The Government has managed to keep up the pressure on the job creation front.’ Above, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Richard Bruton at the launch of the Action Plan for Jobs in 2012. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Coalition got what it wished for with the departure of the troika just before Christmas, but it has been downhill all the way since then and Ministers have nobody but themselves to blame.
The absence of a coherent political strategy to fill the vacuum left by the troika exit handed the initiative to the Opposition and the Government has been on the defensive over one issue after the other since the beginning of the year.
With the Dáil due to resume normal business next week, after the St Patrick’s holiday break, the Government badly needs to regain control of the agenda to try to focus the attention of the electorate on its achievements in the run-up to the local and European elections.
In one way, the Coalition is only getting what it deserves as it made the troika the scapegoat for policies it knew very well were required to get the Irish economy out of the mire.
Where it really showed its ineptitude was the failure to put a plan in place to keep the focus of public attention on the fundamental issue of the economy and the steps that still need to be taken on the road to full recovery.
The three-monthly reviews by the troika kept the pressure on the political system and administrative system to deliver reforms and also kept the voters focused on the core issue of the economy.
It would have made political sense for the Coalition to replicate the troika regime by publicly setting targets of its own, covering the public finances and the range of reforms required to ensure competitiveness and efficiency in the economy.
Instead the Government, still euphoric at the departure of the troika, launched its “Strategy for Growth” policy a week before Christmas when nobody was paying a blind bit of attention and left the new year to look after itself.
That left the door wide open for the Opposition to attack the Government on a range of fronts, from the administration of justice to the imposition of water charges and the lack of supervision of how taxpayers’ money is allocated to voluntary bodies.
The lack of outside pressure to force the pace of reform has also been evident in the way the administrative system has slipped back to its own ways of doing business, with the production of promised legislation slowing to a snail’s pace now
the troika has gone. This was obvious before the St Patrick’s break when the Dáil spent a whole week debating the Government’s priorities for the year ahead. This debate is part of Dáil reform, but in fact it was a reflection of the fact there was very little legislation to discuss.
One area where the Government has managed to keep up the pressure is on the job-creation front. That is primarily because it has a detailed programme in the form of the Action Plan for Jobs (APJ) with three monthly reviews to ensure that targets are being met.