Irish Government needs to pick an ambitious and sustainable path to economic renewal past climate change. And stay on it.

“Anger is a valid emotion. It’s only bad when it takes control and makes you do things you didn’t want to do…”

Ellen Hopkins, via #Angrynomics

So Micheál Martin made good his strategic promise when he took over the party 2011 that he would lead the Fianna Fáil party back into government within ten years. It’s easy to forget just how implausible that sounded at the time, as they returned with just 20 seats.

He has also tried over the years since to make it clear to his party that there would be no more comfortably large wedges of single party dominance. Indeed, the outgoing government could be the last we see where one Taoiseach has such dominance around the cabinet table.

Martin’s incoming administration will have no such comfort zone, nor indeed will Leo Varadkar when he comes back for his second term at the end of 2022. Three parties will have to hack out this government’s course through moderation and consensus.

And it is very much his government. Pulling it together has not been easy, with as Theresa Reidy noted on Cargo of Bricks recently, social distancing requirements slowed down negotiations right down, or if you take the cynical view ran the clock down on any other option.

But the numbers in each of the three parties are impressive and they probably also give an indication that this is an administration that has got enough support to go the whole distance. That Martin was voted in by 93 to 63 gives him added confidence the Dáil is behind him.

The programme for government has a lot of criticism because it’s very long on promises but short on real commitments. That may be a reflection of Martin’s obsession with detail, but it also reflects the fact that it is not yet clear what business plan can deliver all this.

Coming up with a response to that will fall to the Fine Gael Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe who is one of the most intellectually engaged members of the Fine Gael front bench. Naturally courteous, he’s not a million miles from the new Taoiseach in personal temperament.

The success of this administration will rest on his ability to find innovative ways to reverse the long term global trend of states being forced to carry enormous corporate debt whilst picking up the huge social and economic cost of global shocks like the credit crunch and Covid19.

Solving big problems in health and housing is simply the entry level qualification for this government, like eaten bread it may well be forgotten by the time of the next election (much as the 2016 touchstone, Irish Water, was in February).

But the myth of the austerity era that you can do more with less does not apply to these two big issues. The cash will have to found from somewhere, and pulling back on infrastructural promises will only get them so far in filling in the giant fiscal hole Covid has left.

It will also have to address the wealth and resource deficits on the island giving citizens not just the banks the means to invest in their own communities and start to believe again in the future of their children and grandchildren whichever far flung part of the country they live.

Our deputy editor David McCann has pointed out elsewhere that failure to appoint a unionist voice to the Seanad was a missed opportunity. I suspect that’s much to do with the exigent need to re-enforce his political presence in parliament generally, particularly women.

One thing that will change for the better is North South relations. Martin’s willingness to call Sinn Féin’s recidivism, not least its deliberate collapse of the institutions of the Belfast Agreement has won him trust amongst Unionists that has evaded other southern leaders.

Having long criticised his two Fine Gael predecessors for taking their eye off the northern ball, Martin’s priority will be develop cross government capacity to fill out and support those institutions (see Tim Snyder) with an agenda that’s full of actual business.

The Department of the Taoiseach is to house the Shared Ireland unit, with the specific intention of making sure that all members of the cabinet bring a cross border perspective to critical policy areas such as crime, jobs, infrastructure and the environment.

The hollowing neglect of these critical institutions was what made them so easy for Sinn Féin to kick over with barely anyone outside Stormont noticing they were gone for three years. This is particularly true of the vast majority of the Dublin press.

We can expect engagement with Northern Ireland to increase, not least with Brexit set to change the fundamental economic arrangements within and between the two islands. The previous focus on the border has left a lot of practical questions unasked never mind unanswered.

Nearer home, he has big problems to fix. In the foreground is the short term deficit hole, longer term tackling climate in a shorter and shorter time frame, and despite the fact the gap is nowhere near as wide as other countries, the wealthy 1% versus the rest of us problem.

If the country is to return to that moment in 1959, when under Whittaker and Lemass it last decided who and what the country wanted to be, they need to pick an ambitious, thriving, playful and ultimately sustainable path forward on economic renewal and climate change.

And stay on it. To quote my two favourite authors of the moment, Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth at the moment, it’s about “calming the anger” and moving from #Angrynomics to an economics that works for everyone”.

Afternote: Listen out for my interview with Eric on Wednesday in Episode 6 of our new podcast #CargoOfBricks… 

Happy st. Patrick’s day! – Dublin, Ireland” by Giuseppe Milo ( is licensed under CC BY

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