Early present is late in the day


Joe Costello and Jan O’Sullivan will definitely find opening their Christmas presents a bit of an anti-climax. They got their gifts early with news of their ministerial promotions.

To be fair, no one could deny either of them the right to enjoy the good news. Whatever our disagreements, their promotions were fully deserved. I have worked with both quite closely over the years. In Jan’s case, she is my constituency colleague here in Limerick, while Joe was my Labour opposite number during part of my time as Minister for Defence.

Though neither could be said to represent the newer intake of Labour TDs, they are both hard workers and committed Labour politicians with long and sound track records. Their appointments are so deserved that it raises the question: why did these two very obvious appointments take so long?

Eamon Gilmore‘s indefensible month-long delay in appointing a Junior Minister for Housing and Planning has left a lot of important decisions piling up on the minister’s vacant desk. Not least of these is the future of Limerick’s regeneration programme.

While the appointment of a Limerick-based minister augurs well for the future of the project, the Tanaiste’s prevarication means that we have wasted from the middle of November until early 2012 unnecessarily. It seems that delaying decisions that could benefit the people of Limerick is a price that had to be paid to calm the internal politics of the Labour Party.

Unless I am mistaken, Jan’s promotion to the Super Junior rank now leaves Limerick city with two voices at the Cabinet table: Jan O’Sullivan and Michael Noonan. Much will be expected by the people of Limerick from both of them, not least on the issue of regeneration.

But what of those left behind? What of those new TDs and older stalwarts passed over again in this Labour junior ministerial promotion stakes?

The dangling of the carrot of promotion may have kept them quieter than expected over the Budget period, but that moment has passed. Expect to hear a lot more from disgruntled and dissatisfied Labour TDs in 2012 especially as they watch Comrades Penrose, Broughan and McNulty vote in line with the wishes of the Labour Party membership and not the party leadership in the months ahead.

In echoes of the Eighties FG/Lab coalition, this Government is already kicking the can of difficult decisions down the road, hoping that things will improve and save the Government from politically tough and unpalatable actions. Adopting this lazy, almost naive, approach only ignores lessons of recent Irish history, particularly from that failed Eighties’ government.

The sad reality is that there is no immediate prospect of meaningful recovery across Europe. The wasted opportunity of the last EU summit has made sure of that, though the sounds of this slowly dawning realisation from some other EU capitals may develop into something in 2012.

If not, then the year ahead is going to be difficult. The IMF and EU have almost halved their 2012 growth predictions for Ireland, lowering them from 1.9 per cent to just 1 per cent. Both of these forecasts are below the Government’s own more optimistic 1.3 per cent figure.

In even more ominous news for Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers, the IMF warns that the Government’s plans to increase tax revenues between now and 2015 “will likely need to encompass income tax bands and credits”. In other words, the Kenny/Gilmore promise of no income tax increases is looking very shaky if our recovery targets are to be achieved.

If it took the prospect of a junior ministerial position to keep the troops from going AWOL over the last Budget, how big a carrot or stick will both Kenny and Gilmore need to keep their backbenchers onside if the IMF’s analysts are right?

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