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There’s plenty of life in the old dog just yet

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Slán agus buíochas…Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives Scoil Mhic Dara principal Mairéad Mhic Dhonncha a goodbye hug.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

New politics has been with us for almost nine months now so it’s not a bad time to take stock on how the experiment is working out.

The most important thing is that this bockety government held together by rusty nails and springs has somehow managed to survive.

We omniscient members of the high priesthood known as political correspondents have got it spectacularly wrong when it came to Enda Kenny’s longevity.

If you rewind back to February, March and April you will see confident predictions that he will be gone within months and even weeks.

Later on, when it looks like he wasn’t kindly obliging the predictions, the deadline was pushed back to the end of the summer, then the Budget, and then Christmas. The latest intel is it will be spring.

Eventually the Kenny millennialist a will be proved right – but I’m still sticking to my guns and saying he will stay longer than my colleagues have been predicting.

It’s mainly a hunch, based on the demeanour of the man. The election knocked the puff out of him. But he has bounced back.

Despite the precarious nature of the government his authority has seemed stronger. Brexit has given him a strong card. So has the fact that he has very strong support in the parliamentary party, that he is the right person to lead the ship of state through the icebergs.

There is a sense too that his potential successors are not the finished product or haven’t quite got to where they need to go.

But then, leadership successions can be messy hasty affairs. People can be thrust into the new job. You don’t really know what they are like until they are actually doing the job.

Leo Varadkar could be one if the greats. He could also be one of the great belly-flops.

There’s a bit of calculation there too. Kenny must step down before the next election. But I’m not getting a sense of an early election. Fianna Fáil is not in a hurry. It’s been often too many times in the past by snap elections.

However, if Fine Gael changes leader it will precipitate an immediate election. It’s not going to allow Varadkar or Simon Coveney or Frances Fitzgerald enjoy a honeymoon period.

So, all things being equal, it will be the end of 2017 when it will all happen. Of course, one unseen iceberg is all it takes.

So what has happened so far? Very little – and that’s the problem. It’s a government being run on a caretaker basis. So it’s prone to being a victim for every landmine which the opposition lobs.

It has already lost practically every private members motion that has been taken by Fianna Fáil, or ones that are populist – on fracking and on mortgage interest relief for example.

To read Harry’s column in full, please see this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Record budget spend but feelgood factor is missing

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Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe (left) and Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Possibly not the best intro ever to a column but I’m going to start it this week with a moment of pure magic from the brilliant TV comedy series, The Royle Family.

It was when Jim’s daughter, Denise, and her husband David, decided to cook the Christmas dinner for the family. Needless to say, it was a disaster.

Anyway, Denise announced to all and sundry that the first course would be “‘Cup-a-Soup’ with a twist”.

“What’s the twist?” asked Jim.

“We are serving it in a bowl,” said Denise without missing a beat.

I’m sure by this stage you have guessed the segue.

Yep, what we got this week was a giveaway Budget, but one with a twist. And the twist was that even though Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath handed out more money than any other Budget in the history of the State, nobody felt like they were really getting anything. The feel-good factor was totally absent.

I’m long enough around the block to remember giveaway budgets in the old mode. Unsurprisingly, the most memorable ones occurred in election years. There was Charlie McCreevy’s in 2002 and Brian Cowen’s in 2007. They increased spending, reduced taxes and were designed to make everybody feel they were getting a few extra euro in their pocket.

And of course, both of them were election budgets. Bertie Ahern’s famous comment of the time summed up the outlook back then: “The Boom is getting Boomier.”

Now we seem to be on the other end of the cycle. Unemployment is worse than it was in the recession a decade ago, worse than it was in the dark and dismal days of the early to-mid- 1980s. But there is no talk now of us living beyond our means or having to tighten our belts. That conversation will take place sometime in the future. There was no talk either or taxes being lowered, or USC being changed, or Leo Varadkar rewarding those who get up early in the morning.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Varadkar’s surprise attack on NPHET a bolt from the blue

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Leo Varadkar on Claire Byrne Live on Monday night.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There was no doubt in which direction Leo Varadkar was pointing his finger during an extraordinary appearance on RTE’s Claire Byrne Live on Monday night. He launched into a full-blooded attack on NPHET, and by extension on Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, for its Sunday bombshell that the country needed to move to Level 5.

Varadkar might have been talking in his role Minister for Enterprise, but the public might not see that, seeing it as another example of straight-talking Leo sticking the boot in.

Members of NPHET were taking aback by the ferocity of the criticism – it was a filleting, pure and simple. There was no pulling of punches, no euphemisms, no sugaring of the words. The 24-hour period between late Sunday and Monday was a fiasco for Irish politics and one that could have long-term consequences.

“The whole thing was a sh**fest,” one Cabinet minister reflected ruefully. “It should never have happened in the way that it did.”

There is no doubt that, downstream, this episode will have consequences for the relationship between the two entities. At this moment in time, none of the outcomes look good.

Where did the blame lie? Was it the National Public Health Emergency Team, which made an announcement on Sunday evening that came like a bolt out of the blue – the entire country should be put to Level 5 with immediate effect?

Or was it the Government for not having a fit-for-purpose process in place to make sure such information did not go into the public domain in the way that it did?

Let’s look at the substance of Varadkar’s argument. His argument was NPHET had landed the government with a Level 5 recommendation “out of the blue” without prior consultation. In other words, by its unilateral action, it had almost backed the Government in a corner.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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Harris did the right thing on colleges – but he did it too late

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Crowds of students around the Spanish Arch on Monday night.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harry.mcgee@gmail.com

Last Friday the new Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris did a smart thing. A day after the big Government announcement – where Donegal was whooshed up to Level 3 – he made a separate call.  All third level institutions in the country were also to be put on Level 3, Harris announced. That meant lectures online rather than on campus plus most other activities being conducted remotely.

In a sense it seemed like a smart bit of preventative public health action. But was it already too late?

There was a good reason for the action. In the past few weeks, universities and colleges reopened in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The results were predictable. If you are in your teens or in your twenties, in the battle of hormones versus virus, hormones will win even time – especially when alcohol is involved.

Within a week of the UK reopening its colleges, authorities at Glasgow University were already sagging under the weight of new cases confronting them.

By Friday of last week the university had recorded 172 positive cases and there were over 600 students isolating. That figure increased over the weekend.

That was replicated across Britain where there were at least 23 outbreaks reported at colleges and universities. Preventing students from congregating is a little like Canute telling the incoming tide to stop.

It’s been the same in the States, where colleges have become the new Covid hot spots during September. Infections of the virus on the campuses of universities is now nearing 100,000 in the US this year, with about 40,000 of them in September alone.

It’s not the campus itself. At least that is a controlled environment. I’m on the Údarás of NUI Galway and know that the college authorities have gone to great lengths in making the campus as safe as possible, including a massive plan for remote teaching and learning.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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