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 OBrien 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 taoiseachs in-tray is heavy with problems that demand decisive action from day one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fear of crime continues to run well above its reality as simmering gangland feuds feed public alarm.
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.
Parents fear the system is being strained to breaking point, as unions grow increasingly vocal about conditions, and the proposed constitutional amendment on childrens rights continues to provoke political headaches.
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.