When I called for a mid-term review of the Programme for Government (PfG) little did I expect the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to respond as indignantly as if I’d demanded they abstain for a month from foreign travel and soft-focus interviews.
But that’s what happened. Opening last week’s Sunday Independent I found a near identical response from their two spokespeople declaring that: “The Programme For Government (PfG) was negotiated for the lifetime of the Government… and no review is planned.” This is a response, but it is not a reply.
There is no contradiction between accepting that the PfG was negotiated as a five-year package and the reality that it is good governance to do a mid-term stock of the areas where you are doing well and those where you need to pick up the slack.
Neither is there is a contradiction between accepting the PfG and realising that the global economy has changed in the two years since the PfG plan was put together.
The Cost-of-Living crisis is real. It is impacting us all, but hitting some much harder than others. The fact that it was not specifically anticipated when the PfG was written, does not undermine the PfG.
The opening paragraphs of PfG text commits the parties in government to delivering for the people “with good faith and urgency.” So let’s show that good faith, as we reach the half way point of this government, by doing a speedy review.
By the way, those same opening paragraphs also state that “not everything will be achieved within the lifetime of this Government” … which begs the question; why did the Taoiseach and Tánaiste say it was and claim this as a reason not to review?
Agreeing a review is not a major concession. Whoever is advising the two leaders otherwise, is wrong. PfG reviews are a standard practise. The three governments in which Micheál Martin served from 1997 to 2011 conducted annual PfG reviews.
Let me repeat this. For over a decade we did annual PfG reviews.
Those reviews did not weaken those governments or undermine the parties in them. Quite the contrary. Those reviews enabled ministers to see where they were succeeding and enabled a whole of government impetus in areas where progress was sluggish.
The review reports, which were published on the Taoiseach’s website, were an effective communications tool, giving back benchers an accessible scorecard of both the successes and “must try harders” of the government they were backing.
As someone who has had the privilege of serving in cabinet and on the government backbenches, I know the issue is not why there should be a mid-point review, but why anyone would rule one out?
However, rather that speculating on why the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have resolutely opposed a review, let me instead offer this friendly caution against such continuing intransigence.
Firstly, do not imagine your refusal to do a mid-point review will mean there won’t be one. Fail to do one based on full government-wide access to all the data and stats and you may find that others will fill the vacuum with skewed or biased reviews based on partial or outdated information.
Secondly, recognise that the current level of systemic disconnect between backbenchers and government is not sustainable. While most ministers are individually open with backbenchers, Darragh O’Brien T.D. is one such example, when it comes to cross-government interactions, the flow is all too often one-way.
Goverrnment is complicated. There are countless moving parts, all of which daily struggle to cope with changing events. The answer to making it work well – and by that I mean in a way that allows people to see that their government is on their side – lies in opening up two-way lines of communication, not shutting them down.
Thus, telling the people who keep you in office that we decided this two years ago and the discussion is now closed, only serves to further damage a relationship they should be striving to repair.