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'Try again. Fail again. Fail better': The mantra of the FF-FG-Green government 100 days in

One thing is for sure, this government needs a win.

The next big test for this government is Budget 2021.
The next big test for this government is Budget 2021.
Image: RollingNews.ie

“TRY AGAIN. FAIL Again. Fail Better” – a quote from Samuel Beckett that this government appears to have adopted as its mantra. 

At the beginning of August, the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe nearly got taken out by a giant speaker falling over at an event.

An “alarmingly accurate visual metaphor” for the coalition so far, as one journalist put it.

The new government was only five weeks in the job, and it had already been forced to overcome a series of crises and gaffes.

This government couldn’t hit any more speed bumps, could it?

But little did anyone know then there was plenty more lying in wait – and many of it self-inflicted. 

The government’s first major test was one that led to the loss of its first minister.

Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen had received a fine and a ban for drink-driving while holding a provisional licence. It emerged that a Garda Pulse record suggested he had tried to avoid the checkpoint.

Cowen strongly denied this, showing the Taoiseach the garda record he was disputing.

The Taoiseach told him that he would have to face more questions in the Dáil.

Cowen refused. Martin then sacked him.

Losing a minister so early on – nothing could top that? But of course, the only thing that could top that is losing another.

No sooner had Cowen been fired, speculation moved to who would replace him.

The obvious choice was Mayo’s Dara Calleary – he’d been snubbed for a top job by Martin (another issue which caused a headache early on) so this was an opportunity to right what some people perceived to be a wrong. 

Golfgate

But then a little thing called Golfgate happened. 

At the end of August, there was public fury over revelations that around 80 guests, including serving and former politicians, attended a golf dinner in a Co Galway hotel just a day after the government had announced strict new measures.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary – who sat at the Cabinet table as the new measures were decided – was forced to resign his position as Agriculture Minister after he attended the function.

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer also quit his role as deputy chairman of the Seanad. Six serving senators – three each from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, including Buttimer – were thrown out of their parliamentary parties.

After days of speculation about his role, and a number of media interviews, Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan was also forced to step down as EU Trade Commissioner.

A report was compiled into the attendance of former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe at the event, but he escaped this week with just a slap on the wrist.

file-photo-the-report-by-ms-justice-susan-denham-has-found-that-the-resignation-of-supreme-court-judge-seamus-woulfe-would-be-disproportionate-following-his-attendance-at-the-infamous-golfgate-d Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe with former EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. Source: Leah Farrell

Golfgate resulted in the Dáil being recalled early from the summer break. It was by far the biggest scandal of this government and the one that did most damage in terms of public support.

Pubs, the Leaving Cert and the Living with Covid plan

When the new Dáil term came around last month, it seemed it would be a perfect time to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. But alas, no.

Getting pubs reopened was the next big hurdle for the government, in light of Ireland being the only country in Europe where pubs still remained closed, something the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar seemed keen to highlight early on in the new term.

The new Covid roadmap for living with the virus, as well as the Leaving Cert, all items top of the agenda that this government were anxious would go well. 

When the new levels were revealed in the roadmap there was widespread criticism of the communication of the plan. Questions were raised about why Dublin was being placed on Level 2.5, with pubs not serving food remaining closed.

Nonetheless, after much of September was dominated by publicans lobbying for a reopening date, they were allowed open their doors again on 21 September. 

The government’s big unveiling of the plan was overshadowed though when the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had to be tested for Covid-19.

NO FEE GIS COVID RESILIENCE  NATIONAL RECOVERY PLAN JB13 Source: Rollingnews.ie

The minister tested negative, but the handling of the situation, was also fodder to the opposition. The knee-jerk reaction to suspend the Dáil and instructions for the whole Cabinet to restrict their movements played back into the idea of golfgate, that there is one rule for one class of people, and another for the normal folk.

The Leaving Cert seemed to be the government’s one saving grace.

Unlike other jurisdictions, our calculated grades system appeared to go off without a hitch. That all came undone this week when it was revealed that an error in the code used to calculate the grade was detected, resulting in 6,500 students getting the wrong grades.

More gaffes

There are other controversies that have tripped this government up along the way. 

These include the pay of three super junior ministers in government, followed on with the government’s decision to hire more advisers for ministers for state in the middle of a pandemic. This decision was made in the same week there was a cut to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

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There was also that time Eamon Ryan fell asleep in the Dáil. A vote was taking place, and the Green Party leader had to be awoken from his snooze.

Another own goal for the government was the disastrous handling of changes to the PUP. After backlash, the government decided to allow reverse a decision, and allow people receiving PUP to go on holidays to green list countries without losing their weekly payment.

There was that time Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan voted against a government bill on extending the rent freeze and eviction ban. 

Junior Minister Joe O’Brien abstained. They both lost the party whip.

More recently, there was the dog’s dinner of former Minister of State Michael D’Arcy jumping ship to join a funding group, all the while failing to check with the ethics watchdog that it was all above board.

100 days of government

Yes, the gaffes just kept on coming. But maybe 100 days of the new government is a good time to take stock. 

It’s not all bad, government sources will argue. Much has been achieved, they say.

This government enacted 13 Bills in the first 100 days of Government.

They rolled out the July Jobs Stimulus of €4 billion of direct expenditure, €1 billion of taxation measures to support businesses as well as €2 billion in credit guarantees.

In July, the first North-South Ministerial Council was held in more than three years.

The big one: Schools re-opened.

On the Brexit front: A mixed bag. Matters have definitely deteriorated in terms of relations with the UK and Boris Johnson. This is due to the UK Prime Minister undermining of an international agreement. However, the Irish government has rallied, getting support from the EU and US. 

Yes, the Living with Covid plan got off to a bumpy start, but they did promise to deliver it, and they did.

The €600 million Winter Plan was also launched which will provide more health service capacity as we head into uncertain times. 

The government also approved the heads of the Climate Action Bill – something the Green Party promised would be done in the first 100 days.

Ministers admit there has been a lot of bad press, much of it self inflicted. But this government will last – that is one thing they are clear on.

However, one issue is glaring. It was the biggest issue in the election, and despite the pandemic, hasn’t gone away. Housing. 

It was easy fodder for Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald this week, when she asked the Taoiseach in the Dáil: Where is the housing plan?

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said the roadmap for social, public and private house building would be published in September.

With Fianna Fáil making big promises in the election to deliver on housing it is something they have to get right. Any further delays will only compound the criticisms.

With the long list of own goals, slip ups and gaffes, there is one thing for certain – this government needs a win.

Could that win be on housing? No pressure Minister O’Brien.

 

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