“new taoiseach’s in-tray is heavy with problems..”

Out-going Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s final public engagement wasn’t at the Boyne yesterday, it was at Arbour Hill today where, as RTÉ reports, “along with President Mary McAleese, he attended the national commemoration for the leaders of the 1916 Rising” – More here. The new leader of Fianna Fáil, Brian Cowen, is to be confirmed as the next Taoiseach later today and, while some focus may be on a limited reshuffle of the cabinet, the Irish Examiner’s Paul O’Brien sets out some of the immediate challenges he faces. Adds Fianna Fáil leader, Brian Cowen, elected Taoiseach by 88 votes to 76. And Not such a limited reshuffle after all.
From the Irish Examiner

AS BRIAN COWEN takes over as taoiseach today there will be precious little time for him to enjoy a political honeymoon with voters. The new taoiseach’s in-tray is heavy with problems that demand decisive action from day one.

Economy

With the Exchequer deficit widening to 3.7 billion, redundancies soaring by the 47% and the construction/property bedrock of the economy contracting, Mr Cowen needs to prove he not only feels the credit crunch pain of voters, but can shelter the country from the worst of the global slowdown.

Lisbon

Four in five people say they do not understand the issues involved as the no camp closes the gap with the yes side in some polls. Mr Cowen needs to give focus to a drifting pro-treaty campaign while the eyes of Europe are upon him as he struggles with his first test as an international statesman.

Health

Being a former health minister who famously stated the brief was as dotted with landmines as war-torn Angola, Mr Cowen knows better than most how the portfolio can crystallise anger at the Government, especially at a time when record investment is going hand in hand with growing public unease at the results.

Pay talks

As the bitter winds of recession threaten to blow across a previously pacific social partnership landscape, this deal looks like being one of the trickiest ever to pull off. Calling for wage restraint while taking a 15% rise has left Mr Cowen on the back foot and hinting he may forego the ministerial salary rise as a sign of goodwill.

Environment

With tough EU penalties about to bite if Ireland does not get a grip on greenhouse gas emissions,
Mr Cowen must prove his environmental beliefs are not just hot air and persuade families and big business to change the habits of a lifetime.

Public service reform

Mr Cowen has stated this will be his key agenda initiative, but the protracted row with consultants and dithering over decentralisation do not bode well unless he shows he is willing to be decisive early on.

Crime

The fear of crime continues to run well above its reality as simmering gangland feuds feed public alarm.

Transport

With the ambitious Transport 21 agenda running badly behind schedule, the mammoth task of expanding the Luas and metro network risks going off the rails.

Schools

Parents fear the system is being strained to breaking point, as unions grow increasingly vocal about conditions, and the proposed constitutional amendment on children’s rights continues to provoke political headaches.

Trade talks

Mr Cowen needs to persuade increasingly angry farmers they will not be sold out by the EU at the World Trade Organisation talks.

Update Interesting reference in the BBC profile of Brian Cowen

After Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said that consultation was needed with the IRA’s so-called army council on a matter under negotiation during talks, Mr Cowen is reputed to have told him to go to outside and look in the mirror.

Indeed.

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  • Regarding RTE coverage of Bertie’s long good-bye, it’s odd and, to my mind, unpatriotic, that the only time the cameras were not present to broadcast live coverage was when Bertie Ahern attended his very last event as Taoiseach (acting) at Arbour Hill.

    I recall yesterday hearing a political correspondent from the station virtually dismissing the tribute to the leaders of 1916 as something for his own supporters.

    Perhaps. But RTE would do well to remember that the leaders of 1916 enjoy cross party admiration and allegiance in Ireland, apart from some obvious exceptions in the northeast and, it appears, Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

  • Paddy

    Well said Concubhar.

  • An Lochlannach

    Conchubhar wrote: But RTE would do well to remember that the leaders of 1916 enjoy cross party admiration and allegiance in Ireland…

    I’m with you on this Conchubhar, but I wonder just how deep is the cross-party allegience. A former Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, has publically criticised the Rising, for example. I wouldn’t imagine that someone like Brian Hayes would have much time for revolutionaries of any stripe or generation.

  • A Lochlannaigh,

    You may have a point about FG being lukewarm on the rising – it’s definitely a party which is a redoubt for a section of Irish society which hankers after the days of Empire – but I would argue that FG is a broader church than that. After all, John Bruton for all his obsequiousness towards Prince Charles, CO of the murderous Parachute Regiment, has a bust of Michael Collins in his house. Michael Collins took part in the 1916 Rising and was a ‘terrorist’ as much as he was ‘a Statesman’.

    I also believe that the current crop of political leaders, being fearful, perhaps, of SF (though less so now), feel that it’s time to reclaim that ground from the Provisional Repulicans. That perhaps is at the heart of Brian Cowen’s decision to speak more Irish in public recently – I’m not saying it’s a purely cynical political move but you can’t rule out politics either – and the very pronounced way in which Bertie said that the Arbour Hill event would be his final event as Taoiseach. You have to remember as well the way in which Michael McDowell made much of his rhetoric about standing by the Republic and reclaiming the Flag and all.

    Amidst this all, of course, there is plenty of leeway for the patriots of convenience who get on a bandwagon. Somehow I don’t think Bertie was one of these. Either way, it wasn’t for RTE to make that judgement by ignoring the live event at Arbour Hill. Arbour Hill, after all, is our Remembrance Sunday and I never heard any BBC political corr speaking in terms used by the RTE pol corr [something for his supporters] while describing the Remembrance Sunday event.

  • Prince Charles is not CO of anything. Perhaps you meant honorary colonel in chief, a title which confers absolutely no authority over the unit in question.

    It would have been a laugh to see, though.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    In fairness to the Blueshirts, many of their luminaries took part in the Rising. Just off the top of my head, WT Cosgrave, Dick Mulcahy, Harry Boland, Michael Collins, Eamonn Duggan, Desmond Fitzgerald and Patrick Belton come to mind. Many others fought in the War of Independence.

    Though I suspect Redmond-wannabes like John Brutal or the younger Partitionistas wouldn’t like to dwell on these facts.

    Talking to some of the younger Blueshirts, I suspect IndaKinny’s lionization of Collins goes against their instincts. You’d swear they regard his war against the British Empire as a black mark, but they’ll forgive him because he got rid of the north and executed “republicans”.

    These are the people who’ll be running RTE in a few years…..

  • aquifer

    “John Bruton . . . has a bust of Michael Collins in his house.

    Michael Collins, an inspired guerilla and political leader, ended up a victim of rabid irish separatists. Hung out to dry in the constitutional negotiations by Dev, and then shot to death by a rabble of fanatical bandits who had no feasible notion of how to settle with the north, a bust of Collins is as good a talisman against ethnic insurrectionism as any.

  • An Lochlannach

    But don’t forget that Enda Kenny recently referred to Collins as a ‘constitutional nationalist’. To be fair to Kevin Myers he wrote a good piece about how Kenny wanted to revise history to suit his own conservative instincts. What next, Wolfe Tone as spiritual figurehead for the Alliance Party?

  • Greenflag

    ‘Concubhar O Liatháin’

    ‘Regarding RTE coverage of Bertie’s long good-bye, it’s odd and, to my mind, unpatriotic, that the only time the cameras were not present to broadcast live coverage was when Bertie Ahern attended his very last event as Taoiseach (acting) at Arbour Hill.’

    Right COL . That shower of Gilmore supporting wasters in RTE need a kick up the transom .
    Ungrateful shower of bastards . Were it not for the men of 1916 Ireland’s economy today would be worse than a Welsh or Scottish look alike or heaven help us a Northern Ireland sink of public sector dependency 🙁

  • they did show it live, didn’t they