The Irish Times view on Government performance: more difficult choices await

The Coalition must face up to perhaps its greatest post-Covid challenge in tackling the housing crisis

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and  Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan launching the Economic Recovery Plan at Dublin Castle this week. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan launching the Economic Recovery Plan at Dublin Castle this week. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

As the vaccination programme continues its rollout and the reopening of social and economic life proceeds cautiously, so the political atmospherics are changing in response. The Government has pushed forward and made several important decisions in recent weeks. Many more difficult choices await.

With the caveat that a resurgence of the virus would throw both Government and public into chaos, these have been a rare few good weeks for the three-party coalition. The next phase in the reopening announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week was ambitious, and seems more likely to accelerate than to recede. The previous phase, which began tentatively more than a month ago, has been capably managed and the Government will hope that this next more intensive phase proceeds similarly smoothly.

It is imperative that the vaccination programme continues apace, as the threat of a fourth wave will only reliably recede when vaccination levels reach critical mass. The programme has been hit with supply problems, but the rollout is transforming the country and its progress is the greatest current national priority.

The Government also this week published its plan for economic recovery. The document had a heavy Green Party influence, promising new investments in climate action, public transport, education and training. It represents a continuation of the borrowing to sustain the economy that has been the mark of the Government’s response to the pandemic so far. This is the correct approach, but it is also one that is necessarily finite. The Government recognised this, signalling that the pandemic unemployment payment – a potential political landmine – will be reduced from the autumn. In simultaneously promising to reform the local property tax – a long overdue move – the Government demonstrated a degree of willingness to grasp the nettle on difficult decisions.

But if the Government has been getting on with business, there are undoubtedly daunting challenges ahead of it. A byelection is expected to be held in Dublin Bay South in the coming weeks, and Fine Gael finds itself in the unenviable position of being the bookies’ favourite to retain its seat. Failure to win the contest in one of its traditional heartlands would be unsettling for Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.

More profoundly, the Coalition must face up to perhaps its greatest post-Covid challenge in tackling the housing crisis. This week the ESRI advised that it should double public investment in the area, but housing requires more than money: it requires time, and it requires nimble policymaking, too. With the stirrings of forward momentum in recent weeks, the Government is in better shape than it has been for some time. It would be unwise, however, to underestimate the challenges ahead of it.

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