The Irish Times view on the coalition’s travails: governing by unforced error
The impression is of a Government whose disparate parts have yet to cohere into an effective whole
The three-way coalition comprising Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil under Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan’s Green Party has been plagued by unforced errors. Photograph: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
For most governments, the first weeks in office are a brief moment of respite from the normal rhythms of political battle. Ministers read themselves into their new briefs. The opposition regroups. The public is more forgiving of an administration that has yet to do anything. There’s a reason “political honeymoon” is one of the most overworked clichés in journalism – just as there’s a reason that governments try to use this time to enact their most ambitious plans, when their political capital is greatest.
The three-party coalition that took office last month has had no such grace period. That’s partly because the transfer of power occurred during a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it’s only partly that. Even allowing for a certain fraying of the sense of national togetherness as time passes, the social solidarity that has marked the country’s response to the emergency has held firm.
Instead, the Government’s problems have been largely self-inflicted. No sooner had the Cabinet been formed than a slew of Fianna Fáil TDs went public to bemoan their omission. Such jarring self-pity revealed not only a failure to read the public mood but also the scale of internal indiscipline within Fianna Fáil in particular. The absence of a minister from west of the Shannon was another unforced error that resulted simply from a failure of Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan to coordinate their plans. Further damage followed with the sacking of Barry Cowen after a controversy over his drink-driving ban.
The stimulus plan, which recognises the scale of the crisis and commits resources accordingly, has been the Government’s major achievement. But the effect has been diluted by struggles elsewhere. The plan to reopen schools is welcome but comes so late that principals will struggle to adapt in time for the return of children next month. The Cabinet was right to take a hard line on travel, but the message was muddled and then undermined by a botched attempt to clamp down on welfare recipients passing through the airports.
A 10 per cent pay cut for ministers was the right thing to do, but it came only after a Bill was rushed through the Oireachtas to align the pay of “super-junior” ministers who everyone knows are only at the Cabinet table because the coalition leaders needed to spread the spoils of office as widely as possible in their parties.
The impression is of a Government whose disparate parts have yet to cohere into an effective whole. From Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who openly questioned government policy on the “green list”, to backbenchers such as Willie O’Dea, indiscipline runs right through the coalition, from top to bottom. The Oireachtas breaks for the summer recess this week, and the Government badly needs time to regroup. But it must know that unless it can get its act together, it has little chance of withstanding the challenges ahead.