independent

Sunday 22 October 2017

The honeymoon period is over, now Varadkar needs to show leadership

Editorial Comment

With the Dáil returning from its lengthy summer break this week its time for the Government and the political parties to get down to the real business of running the country.

For the last two months the various parties and Dáil groupings have been shadow boxing and flying kites as they vied for media attention and a bump in the polls.

Those polls have been kind to Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar who, according to the most recent Behaviour and Attitudes survey, have opened up an eight point lead on Fianna Fáil.

The Taoiseach and his team of advisors - a group with a reportedly obsessive focus on PR and spin -would be well advised to take these latest poll results with a grain of salt.

It is hard to see Fine Gael's improved poll performance as anything more than a belated honeymoon bounce for the party's youthful new leader, Mr Varadkar.

Neither Mr Varadkar or any of his senior cabinet colleagues have done anything of note over the summer.

Once the Dáil has resumed in earnest, the Government's abject failures to address the ever growing homelessness crisis; the shambolic state of the health service; the perils of Brexit and the scandals embroiling the gardaí will almost certainly see Fine Gael take a beating in the polls.

Photo opportunities running triathlons or posing with Justin Trudeau and tales of being ignored by young Irish waitresses while holidaying in Chicago are perfect fodder to mollify and entertain the public during the political silly season.

However, voters' patience tends to wear thin quickly.

If Mr Varadkar isn't seen to be taking real action to address the serious problems facing the country he's likely to find he's no longer flavour of the month far sooner than he - and his 'Strategic Communications Unit' - might have expected.

The first test of the new Taoiseach's leadership - and his ability to deal with Fianna Fáil and the Independents propping up the Government - will be the preparation of next year's Budget, which is due to be announced in less than a month's time.

While we won't know for sure until Budget day it seems that, in financial terms, the Government has very little room for manoeuvre.

However, rather than increasing investment in the health service or pumping cash into building homes, the Government appears focussed on cutting taxes for the "squeezed middle".

Low and middle income earners have endured a torrid decade and they need help but slashing taxes is not the way to do it. Taking action to improve access to education and childcare or stimulate small enterprise and the construction industry, to suggest just a few examples, would do much more good in the long term.

Fine Gael's plans have more than a whiff of the disastrous auction politics of Ahern era Fianna Fáil. We can only hope that Mr Varadkar is as capable as his PR team insist and that he doesn't choose the future of Fine Gael over the good of the people.

If he does, all the photo ops in the world won't save him, or his party, from the wrath of the people when polling day comes.

Wexford People

News