About a week ago I wrote a piece for the Herald defending the government giving politicians a three week break for the Easter.
This was, I argued, a welcome opportunity for Ministers, TDs and their advisers to do some of the other boring, but important, work and also to take some time to reflect and think about the issues of the day.
Talk about getting it wrong. No sooner has the ink hit the pages than almost everyone in Government was out in public tearing strips off each other.
The whole cast of characters were involved: Environment Minister: Big Phil Hogan, Health Minister: James “Capt Birsdeye O’Reilly, Finance Minister: Michael Noonan, Arts Minister: Jimmy Deenihan, Welfare Minister: Joan Burton, Communications Minister: Pat Rabbitte, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, FG Party Chair Charlie Flanagan plus a few Government backbenchers including Labour’s Colm Keaveney and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty.
The week before had seen some on the Labour side saying that Big Phil could have handled the whole household charge thing a lot better. Just as it appeared that that particular row had run its course, news broke that Big Phil was meeting with Moriarty Tribunal favourite and Tipp North TD, Michael Lowry only a few days after the publication of that Tribunal’s final report.
Within hours other Ministers, namely Birdseye O’Reilly and Noonan, were confirming that they too had meetings with Lowry. This was all too much for Joan who questioned the wisdom of this. So too did Jimmy, but more subtly.
Joan’s words riled Charlie who went on Twitter to ask if Joan had a Government death wish. Regina subsequently went on Radio to say Charlie was right and that Joan was wrong. Others thought Joan was right, including Colm, who also went on to Twitter to call the judgment of senior figures in Fine Gael into question.
Meanwhile Pat spoke to the Sunday Independent to say that he was frustrated by the “interminable delay” in bringing prosecutions following Mahon and Moriarty. Within hours of the paper hitting the breakfast table Alan had issued a broadside that had Pat in mind when it stressed the importance of not making public comments that might prejudice proceedings.
By lunchtime the Taoiseach was doing a bad Harry Enfield scouser impression telling everyone to “calm done”. All that was missing was him donning a Kevin Keegan wig and finishing off the interview saying: “Dey do do dat dough don’t dey dough”
Not only did all of this happen in just one week, it happened in very quiet week at that. If this is how the members of the Government deal with minor matters, Lord help us when the big problems come. And come they will.
The Government has had a fairly charmed existence since coming to office. While things are clearly not improving, they have not had to face any genuine crises or policy dramas.
Both parties have endured some setbacks early into their term. but none that really tested them. For Fine Gael it was the losses in the presidential election and referendum, plus the Roscommon hospital fiasco. For Labour it was the loss of three TDS, including a Junior Minister and a by-election winner, though these were offset by their man winning the presidency.
The handling of the household charge suggests they lack a certain deftness of touch, yet it pales into significance against the problems they may yet face in the years ahead.
How will a government that descends into public squabbling and faction fighting at the mere mention of the names of Moriarty Lowry or O’Brien cope if Merkel Draghi or Barroso decide to turn the thumbscrews on Corporation tax or whatever?
Have they all forgotten that they will be asking the people to take their collective advice at the end of May and vote yes to the Fiscal Compact Treaty? Might it not help their case to give the appearance of knowing what they are doing and all pulling in one direction?
As to the internecine squabbling, there are several systems in place to stop such petty rows escalating and getting into the public arena. One is called common sense. Another is the special adviser/programme manger system. Isn’t it time to get working on both?