The lights are on but nobody is home
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
If you were Bertie Ahern, what would be top of your `to do' list this week?
Granted, it's a packed list, with a housing crisis, runaway inflation, ongoing political corruption from the foot soldiers of destiny to the generals, a peace process under pressure, a refugee policy in tatters, the O'Flaherty appointment. In fact, the list goes on and on.
Yes, Bertie is busy, but you get the distinct feeling that this government is a rudderless ship lurching from problem to problem without any real plan of where they want to be. The three years of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition has seen them trading on two central pillars.
The first is the peace process and yes, Fianna Fáil did manage to fill a gap that Fine Gael and others clearly weren't prepared to fill. But that doesn't necessarily mean that trophies were given out and every cabinet member gets a badge sewn onto their sleeve.
The second plank holding up the coalition is the growing economy, over which it is becoming increasingly clear that Fianna Fail and the PDs actually have little or no control. Other than that, everywhere you look there is failure. Hospital waiting lists are growing. The Eircom privatisation was a sham. The U-turn of Partnership for Peace is still not supported, even by many of their own party members. The housing crisis has clearly not been tackled effectively. The refugee and immigration policies adopted by the government are also clearly not working and are basically unjust.
What we have is a band aid government only implementing cheap PR fixes that might or might not hold up until the next election.
This week it is housing and inflation that gets the quick fix. Inflation hit 5.2% this week as figures released by the Central Statistics Office showed increasing oil and mortgage prices causing knock costs for households. The 5.2% inflation rate means that the 5% wage increase promised under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness has been wiped out. In reality, the partnership agreement has been dealt a knock out blow. Time will tell whether the establishment parties realise that.
If we had a more effective trade union leadership, the Dublin Government would be on the rack and the unfinished issues of childcare, a real minimum wage, adequate social welfare payments, housing, education and health services could all be dealt with. Don't hold your breath waiting for the dynamic duo of Cassells and Geraghty coming to save us, though.
What about John Bruton? What was his line of attack in such a target-rich environment? Well, John was outraged this week. He even managed to get Leinster House suspended twice as he expressed this outrage. John wasn't worried about inflation, housing, health etc. He had suddenly realised that cabinet procedures had been breached in the appointment of Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank. They should have got two weeks notice of the proposed appointment.
It must be fairly obvious that not following procedures is just one of the many faults this coalition government have. Why has John Bruton never expressed such outrage about health, housing, poverty childcare funding?
There are massive travesties in social justice being perpetrated by this government yet Bruton still managed to miss the open goal.
Bertie must be laughing at the ineptitude of his opposition, not only in Leinster House but also among the social partners. It seems that throughout the political establishment the lights are on but absolutely nobody is home.