Our weak-link ministers could damage this Government

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IT IS possible to categorise ministers into three distinct groups.

The first are the high-flyers. These are the top performers who the public recognise and even like: the ones who party members hope may one day lead the party.

The second group, the passengers, counterbalance these luminaries. These are the ministers who neither impress nor disappoint. They are the anonymous plodders who must be carried along due to political or geographic considerations.

While these passengers might not add to the Government’s poll ratings, neither do they damage them. They can be carried along without much effort or risk.

But it is members of the third category who have been most visible over the past few weeks. These are the weak links.

This Government contains a few weak links.

Unlike passengers, they have the capacity to inflict considerable damage on the entire Government. They can derail its programme and mortally damage its agenda.

The two weak links in this Government are Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter. They are not the only ones, but the insensitivity and arrogance they display manages even to edge the walking disaster zone that is the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, out of the frame.

Within months of taking office, both Hogan and Shatter were reaching levels of conceit and arrogance that predecessors who spent decades in power never dared attempt.

Hogan’s approach to the introduction of the household charge was ham-fisted from the start. While his “just do as you are told” approach was classic old-school Fine Gael, his failure to grasp the understandable difficulties many would have in paying within the very tight deadlines suggests someone far removed from realities of life in 2012 Ireland.

But Hogan could not be warned. Hogan knows best. It is the same imperious style he displayed in the introduction of the septic tank charge. In that instance, his initial dogmatic approach ended with his having to do a U-turn, claiming that it was everyone else who had got it wrong.

It is the attitude we can expect from him as he turns his attention to dismantling the current water service system. As we saw during the week, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the rest of the Government are at sixes and sevens on how the new scheme will work, how many jobs will be lost and how much families are going to be asked to pay.

You would imagine that the ultimate cost to families would be the minister’s first consideration when making such a massive reform. But that is not the Hogan way. Not when it comes to policies or to politics.

The revelation in the Sunday Independent a few weeks ago of his comments to a former senior Fine Gael administrator showed that his arrogance and condescension is not reserved only for those outside the FG fortress.

Hogan’s insensitivity to what ordinary men and women are enduring is matched by that of his colleague, the Minister for Justice. While the results of damage that Hogan’s misadventures have inflicted on the Government have yet to be seen, the evidence is already there in the case of Shatter.

The blame for the defeat of the Oireachtas inquiries referendum last October lies at his door. While Brendan Howlin was the minister technically responsible for proposing the measure, it was Shatter who made most of the running.

It was Shatter who haughtily dismissed the concerns of the eight former attorneys general. It was Shatter who discarded their opinion as “not credible” and it was he who then went on to attack them personally.

Like Hogan, Shatter does not reserve his disdain for just particular groups or sections of society. His “get a life” comment to those concerned about the household charge showed a similar disinterest and detachment from ordinary life. An easy thing to do, I suppose, when Shatter has interests in about 15 properties between Florida, London and Dublin.

We know how politically indebted the Taoiseach is to both these guys. Without their support and backing, he would be just another backbencher. So, it appears that enduring their continuing arrogance and indifference is the price we all must pay.

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