The Fine Gael led minority government took more than 70 days to be formed. Taoiseach Enda Kenny now proposes to make up for lost time by showing the new administration can establish a defining presence in its first 100 days. And he needs to do so to regain the public's trust and confidence. Mr Kenny has identified five priority areas – housing, health, rural broadband, budgetary reform and childcare – in the 'Programme for a Partnership Government' for close ministerial focus and attention in that 100-day timeline.
Progress made over the next three months on these issues will also prove an early test of the Government’s cohesion. It will provide a measure of its stability and potential longevity. And it will indicate whether the much heralded era of ‘new politics’ is imminent or not. However, the long delay in forming the administration hardly augurs well for a new political dawn; nor do many aspects of the Government’s programme. The latter are far too reflective of old politics – in meeting the assorted demands of the Independents as the price of their support. Indeed, political promises may exceed what the economy can finance.
The Government programme is not an economic plan and is largely uncosted. The detail of €3.2 billion in extra spending by 2021 is not clearly identified. Nevertheless, by that date the Government still confidently expects to have restored fully the public service pension reductions introduced during the financial crisis. Much, however, will also depend on the state of the world economy in the interim.
The programme – all 156 pages – reflects a costly compromise to achieve a political outcome. Accordingly, too much of its content has involved Fine Gael making policy concessions both to secure qualified Fianna Fáil support from the Opposition benches and to involve the Independents in government. Irish Water serves as the best illustration of the steep price paid. Three different bodies will now examine aspects of the company; its efficiency and its funding, with an Oireachtas committee making recommendations to the Dáil. As corporate governance expert Niamh Brennan has pointed out, Irish Water is currently overseen by at least five bodies.
On housing, the aim to ensure 25,000 new homes are built every year by 2020 is ambitious but necessary given the scale of the housing crisis. On education the increase in the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools is welcome. The overall emphasis in the programme on public spending reflects the Government's fiscal stance where the balance between spending and tax cuts has shifted in favour of the former. As a matter of political necessity, Fine Gael – in government without Labour – has nevertheless moved from centre-right to centre-left on the political spectrum.