The Irish Times view on the new Government’s challenges: the hard work starts now

The previous administration naturally devoted huge time to the Brexit threat, but it let other priorities slip

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving for the first meeting of the new Cabinet at Dublin Castle on Monday. Photograph: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Taoiseach Micheál Martin arriving for the first meeting of the new Cabinet at Dublin Castle on Monday. Photograph: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

 

The Government will have no time to settle in, given the scale of the challenge it faces from the Covid-19 crisis and pressure to start making progress in key policy areas. The previous administration did move fast in response to the pandemic but, for much of its term, it struggled to make progress in key areas like health and housing.The new Government needs, above all, to focus on delivery.

The economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis requires immediate action. The previous government moved to introduce emergency income supports and some assistance programmes for businesses. However, the implementation of significant parts of its business support package, including a credit guarantee scheme, were stalled as legislation was required.

The previous administration naturally devoted huge time to the Brexit threat but it let other priorities slip

Getting this passed and the schemes up and running must now happen as soon as possible. There is a strong case to extend the scope of the guarantee scheme, to step up the cash supports for SMEs and to give longer-term clarity on issues such as rates. These are key areas to be addressed in the stimulus programme promised for July. The programme for government also indicated that this initiative would focus on public investment and on training and jobs market provisions. These are needed, too, but action to save businesses and jobs must take priority.

A key issue for Ministers as they tackle the fallout from Covid-19 is to start making progress on the wider agenda the Government has set for itself. The previous administration naturally devoted huge time to the Brexit threat but it let other priorities slip. One obvious route now is to direct some of the stimulus funding to areas like new housing, renewable energy and retrofitting which, as well as supporting the economy, will help meet these other goals. Proper management and value for money will be essential.

A new national economic plan is promised alongside the Budget for 2021 and drawing this up will be a real test for the three parties

Operating under huge uncertainty will make the early months for this Government difficult. Normally decisions are made against the backdrop of a budget, cash allocated to different areas and overall targets for the public finances. These normal rules were, correctly, abandoned as the pandemic hit and the state lurched heavily into deficit. A vital task as the autumn approaches will be to try to put a framework in place to guide future decisions, informed by the economic outlook and what this means for the public finances.

A new national economic plan is promised alongside the Budget for 2021 and drawing this up will be a real test for the three parties, as the aspirations in the programme for government meet the reality of what can be afforded and the need, in the years ahead, to find new sources of revenue. Picking the correct priorities is vital, but it is implementation which will determine the fate of this new administration – as well, of course, as the unpredictable path of the coronavirus.

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