THOUGH Enda Kenny’s poor performance over the whole sorry Roscommon Hospital saga may have reawakened a lot of question over his leadership, it has also highlighted an entirely different aspect of this Government’s approach.
Since it came to power in a blaze of confidence, the Government has been seen to falter. To make use of footballing parlance, while it has not yet clearly dropped the ball, it has been fumbling it.
The net effect is that a Government which came into office to try to restore national confidence is succeeding only in stirring up national uncertainty.
It is hard to tell if this is a core strategy or unintended consequence — although either way the effect is much the same. We now risk returning to where we were in 2008/9 — not having a clue where we are going or what is going to happen.
Uncertainty has been the hallmark of the approach and the defining characteristic of the results of most of the Government’s major actions.
It describes its handling of the EU bailout interest reduction. We were told that it was the Government’s absolute top priority on their taking office. Four months later, it is still saying how vital it still is — though it may take the fear of collapse in Spain and Italy to achieve it.
Either way, the benefit has already been halved as the rate reduction won’t apply to money already drawn down.
Uncertainty is the main outcome of the announced 0.6 per cent pension levy. This charge on capital has plunged an already tough pension market into great uncertainty, with increasing stories about ordinary people moving their savings offshore as they are uncertain that these savings will not be the next target.
All this uncertainty was exacerbated when Michael Noonan signalled that the correction in this year’s budget will be €4bn, not €3.6bn.
This can only lead to increased savings and decreased consumer activity: the precise opposite of what we urgently need right now. Last week’s movements in Brussels only add to this uncertainty.
The whole Roscommon Hospital debacle has been marked by uncertainty. Enda is uncertain as to the difference between a personal commitment and a commitment made in person.
The health minister was uncertain as to what he knew in January or February, and is even more uncertain now as to what he would put in place of Roscommon Accident & Emergency. He seems even less certain as to what he will do in Mallow, Bantry, Navan, or St John’s Limerick. No one in Government is certain as to why they are reversing specific pledges given only last February. Is it on safety grounds or cost-cutting?
When it comes to the JLCs, the whole Government has created an unbelievable and unforgivable level of uncertainty for more than 200,000 low-paid workers. Rather than accepting the Duffy/Walsh Report and just implementing it, the Government allowed itself to be sidetracked by Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton’s desire to portray himself as the employers’ best friend forever.
The Government knew there was a high court case pending, it must have considered the possibility of losing it — yet when the decision is given, the minister is uncertain of what specific measures he can or will take to protect those covered by the JLCs. The net impact is that we will have to wait until after the summer to be certain what this uncertain minister will put in place permanently to protect low-paid workers.
There are many other areas where a variety of ministers have whipped up uncertainty: the future of the regional airports, the Croke Park agreement, Dail reform.
People need certainty: that is why they unceremoniously turfed out the last government.
Having some certainty about the future allows people to make plans. When they have certainty, the domestic economy will be able to adjust and people will return to spending within whatever new limits they feel comfortable.
If not, then this continuing uncertainty that Enda Kenny and co are creating will compound the worsening effects of the recession and lead us to back beyond 2008 to the truly awful days of the Eighties.
No one wants that.