Don’t believe the spin — our politicians flounder in a sea of hype

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AS we have seen time and again since it came into office, this government is absolutely obsessed with communications.

Its capacity for announcements, reannouncements and repackaged repeat reannouncements has been something to behold. But they would perhaps do well to remember that being obsessed with communications is not the same thing as being good at it. The Taoiseach and Tanaiste’s self-congratulations on implementing 72 out of their 77 jobs promises might be understandable if emigration rates, business closures and the jobless totals were not still rising.

Spinning that your jobs policy is working at a time when increasing numbers of young people are not is a perverse definition of achievement. But it is not the only front on which the Government’s communications strategy is faltering. While its external communications might defy logic, its internal ones defy belief.

Communications between the two parties, and indeed between ministers, borders on non-existent. The fact that Tanaiste Eamom Gilmore and his two Labour junior health ministers must depend on the media to learn what Health Minister James Reilly is doing hardly inspires confidence in the concept of a government working to a common goal.

The fact that this all happened within a few days of Gilmore expressing support for Dr Reilly in the Stubb’s Gazette debacle must rankle with the already sensitive souls in the Labour Party.

Gilmore’s fulsome expression of support eased the pressure on the beleaguered minister. And what thanks does he get for this? He is kept in the dark for five days about the resignation of one of the most important public officials in the land.

Not only was he kept in the dark by Dr Reilly, he was kept ignorant of the fact by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as well.

Where were Kenny and Gilmore’s highly-paid political advisers during these five days?

Most of them are based in the Department of the Taoiseach. Kenny and Gilmore spend a fair bit of time there too. The building is not massive: it is hardly the Pentagon. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some of these advisers or programme managers might have bumped into each other and maybe, as Kenny would put it, used words when they spoke to each other?

If communications is a two-way street, then so too is its absence.

While down-hearted Labour backbenchers might bemoan their leader being kept in the dark, there are even more Fine Gael backbenchers fuming at the solo runs of some Labour ministers.

These Fine Gael TDs are becoming increasingly frustrated at the sight of the Labour Party getting the bulk of its centre-left agenda implemented but crying foul when their colleagues question the feasibility, if not the affordability, of the universality principle.

There were more than a few nods of approval from the more right-wing elements of Fine Gael to the IMF’s call for changes on child benefit. These same people were not desperately unhappy to see Kenny keeping Gilmore in the dark.

The differences and reservations that were once only uttered in private will slowly and steadily make their way on to the pages of the newspapers before the year is out.

While the pundits and commentators assiduously report and repeat the dissatisfaction of Labour TDs, the real trouble for this Government will come from its right wing, not its left.

They are the ones elected on a platform of slashing public expenditure. Ending the Croke Park deal and the universality principle are only two of the items on their hit-list for the year or two ahead. So too, as we saw over the last week, is the highly emotional issue of abortion, no matter what some in the Labour Party might say.

Labour’s commitment to holding the line will not dissuade them. The strength, unity and determination of the two parties in government will be severely tested over the months ahead. If they continue the communications strategy they have adopted up to now it will be a test they will fail.

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