Not a lot done and no sign either that it ever will be

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Two years ago, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore became Taoiseach and Tanaiste. On the day, an ebullient Enda Kenny announced that he was entering into “a covenant with the Irish people”.

Last Wednesday, the Taoiseach and Tanaiste published a progress report on the implementation of that “covenant”. It was, unsurprisingly, covered in gold stars which they generously awarded themselves.

No mention of the fact that their Five-Point Plan promise to create 100,000 new jobs over four years has been long forgotten, or that the number of mortgages in serious arrears has doubled. Mentioning any of this in the report would only tarnish those stars.

But these were not the only inconvenient truths brushed aside. The constitutional revolution promised in the Programme for Government has now also joined the list of promises broken.

Two years ago, when the Government spoke of political reform, it used words such as “radical” and “fundamental” and talked in terms of “dragging the Dail into the 21st century” and “significant revamping”.

While the rhetoric remains, the reality is that the changes made are not radical, fundamental or significant. It is a case of not a lot done and no sign that it will ever be done.

Where is Fine Gael’s promise to reduce the number of TDs by 20? The reduction they now propose is eight. While going from 166 to 158 is some form of progress, it is hardly radical or fundamental.

Or, what about the “powerful committees” they said they would introduce to hold the Government to account? Where are they? Two years on and we now have fewer committees than before with fewer resources than ever.

If what has happened to the committees is a measure of their commitment to make the Government more acc-ountable, then it can only be described as a breathtaking failure.

We were led to believe that the guillotine would only be used in the most extreme circumstances, but what has happened? The Government now uses the guillotine more casually than Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety.

More than a dozen pieces of important legislation have been guillotined, including the Social Welfare, Property Tax and Water Services Bills. Indeed, these last two were guillotined just this week: a perverse tribute to the Government’s second anniversary, perhaps? But it gets worse.

We were promised a 50 per cent increase in Dail sitting hours, but according to the Government’s own report we got a 30 per cent increase. But even this 30 per cent is illusory. It mainly consists of pointless Friday sittings where there are no votes, no ministerial questions and no real parliamentary activity.

We now have topical issue debates, but all that has changed here is the time slot. It is still the same staid old encounter between TD and civil service-scripted minister. There is no interaction or engagement.

The reality is slowly emerging that this Government’s idea of political reform is to turn the Dail into a rubber stamp, passing laws with virtually no debate or scrutiny.

The promise of more scrutiny, made when in opposition, has turned into less scrutiny. Indeed, the level of scrutiny and accountability is facing an even greater reduction with the plan to abolish the Seanad.

Given this Government’s penchant for restricting debates, it will probably guillotine the debate to scrap the Seanad.

By the time this Government leaves office it will have concentrated more power and more authority around the Cabinet table than any before.

As for other promises, such as a relaxation of the rules on Cabinet confidentiality and a promise to stop the appointment of political cronies to state boards, these seem to have disappeared into some sort of Bermuda Triangle of lethargy. I could go on, but what’s the point?

The Government has ignored its own broken promises, ignored youth unemployment figures, ignored the emigration statistics, ignored the mortgage crisis and ignored the cuts in disability services and given itself an A+.

Perhaps it needs a wake-up call after two years to remind it that its “covenant” with the people is supposed to be about more than just a box-ticking exercise.

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