Yes, Minister . . . How the Cabinet performed
For some Ministers, it has been a busy time of steering controversial reforms in the face of public anger, but for others, the main task has been political survival
Wily, foxy, cute, canny. He has hardly put a foot wrong as Minister for Finance, combining a deep knowledge of his Finance portfolio with unerring political instinct garnered over 40 years. High point without a doubt has been the ECB’s agreement to stand down the promissory note. Whatever the merits of the alternative, it was a neat political stroke.
While Noonan hasn’t promised too much, he hasn’t been always as clever as he thinks.
He and Kenny overplayed the impact of the June 2012 summit outcome and the attendant benefit for Ireland.
When it did not happen by the promised date in October, Noonan deployed some verbal gymnastics in deflecting it to being an “Olli Rehn deadline”, which it wasn’t really.
The ruse of delaying the property tax by six months to soften its impact may not be as effective as he thought – that too may come back to haunt him.
Agriculture, Food & the Marine
Opposition suits some politicians and government suits others. The latter is certainly true for Coveney. He is a poor debater but a good technocrat. He has been a competent Minister with knowledge of his areas and some fresh ideas. He was very effective as Fine Gael director of elections in the fiscal treaty last year and has responded strongly too to the horse meat controversy. However, he looked a bit foolish when a special adviser hired at well above the recommended limit walked off the pitch after only a few months.
Transport, Tourism and Sport
Varadkar has been competent, efficient and decisive. Transport is a problematic area he has yet to sort out but he has done well on the tourism side, and the Gathering, as his responsibility, is a plus despite Gabriel Byrne’s outburst. He has also developed an interest in the previously unexplored area for him of sport. He is at his best when defending the Government in general terms.
Communications, Energy & Natural Resources
Like Varadkar, the person to put out to defend the Government against every real and imaginable charge. However, while he can be brilliant in that role, he can also be gratingly superior and arrogant. The communications part of his portfolio is his strongest suit. He is competent on energy and natural resources, showing himself to be a realist who sees no pot of gold or its viscous equivalent at the bottom of an oil well in Irish waters. However, he is not hugely dynamic or innovative. It will be interesting to see his plans for a broadcasting charge.
Education & Skills
Quinn hasn’t a very high profile. His big project has been changing the patronage of schools from Catholic to other forms, non-denominational and multidenominational. This has continued apace although questions have been raised about the surveys conducted in local communities, especially around the lowish volume of response.
He took a bit of a hit early in Government when he U-turned on a Labour vow not to increase third-level student fees. He also took a lot of flak for cuts to disadvantaged schools as well as funding decisions that impacted on small rural schools. He has devoted a lot of effort to literacy and curriculum reform, as well as school building programmes.