Child ben­e­fit U-turn raises ques­tions over fu­ture sta­bil­ity

Bray People - - OPINION -

IF even half the con­tents of the vaunted pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment un­veiled by Enda Kenny last week ac­tu­ally come to pass, the peo­ple of Ire­land will soon be liv­ing in a utopia.

Fine Gael and their new In­de­pen­dent part­ners ex­pect vot­ers to be­lieve that in a few short years Ire­land will have al­most full em­ploy­ment and we’ll see an end to home­less­ness.

We are also promised a fully func­tion­ing health ser­vice, an end to crime and a glo­ri­ous re­turn to idyl­lic ru­ral Ir­ish life.

Can we ex­pect much of this to ac­tu­ally come to pass? Prob­a­bly not if events in Le­in­ster House last week were any­thing to go by.

The Pro­gramme for Part­ner­ship Gov­ern­ment sets out an am­bi­tion for a new type of pol­i­tics and a new way of do­ing busi­ness in the Oireach­tas. Sadly, it seems, the old ways of do­ing busi­ness are still, very much, to the fore.

In a de­vel­op­ment that will have taken even the most cyn­i­cal ob­servers of Ir­ish pol­i­tics by sur­prise, it took less than 12 hours for the first row to erupt over the pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment. The first gov­ern­ment climb down was even quicker. This dis­pute didn’t cen­tre on one of the pro­gramme’s big ticket items – like wa­ter charges or the highly am­bi­tious aim to get some sort of a han­dle on the home­less­ness cri­sis within 100 days – rather it fo­cussed on the seem­ingly in­nocu­ous pro­posal to link child ben­e­fit pay­ments to school at­ten­dance.

This idea – one which many ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts said was a pos­i­tive move that would help chil­dren avail of a good school­ing and es­cape the poverty trap – was sug­gested many times in re­cent years by In­de­pen­dent TD and newly in­stalled Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions D enis Naugh­ten.

One pre­sumes that it was in­cluded in the pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment di­rectly at his urg­ing. The as­sump­tion that it wasn’t a Fine Gael pol­icy is given weight by just how quickly Enda Kenny’s party moved to aban­don it.

Within hours of the pro­gramme’s pub­li­ca­tion, Fianna Fail, seen by many vot­ers as Fine Gael’s coali­tion part­ners in all but name, rushed to op­pose it. Wil­lie O’D ea warned Fianna Fáil would vote down the pro­posal and var­i­ous chil­dren’s char­i­ties called for the gov­ern­ment to give a clear un­der­tak­ing that child ben­e­fits would never be linked to school at­ten­dance. Fine Gael im­me­di­ately caved in. Paschal D ono­hoe – who as Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture Min­is­ter is re­spon­si­ble for de­fend­ing the pub­lic cof­fers from abuse – was the first to bolt for the door, fol­lowed soon af­ter by sev­eral other se­nior Fine Gael min­is­ters.

It is a truly far­ci­cal sit­u­a­tion that the pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment, one ex­pressly aimed at fos­ter­ing the, so called, ‘New Pol­i­tics’, can’t sur­vive 12 hours with­out a ma­jor U-turn.

If a rel­a­tively mi­nor pro­posal – one de­signed to save money, com­bat fraud and im­prove chil­dren’s lives all at less cost to the tax­payer – can’t last half a day, what hope is there that real progress can be made on health, hous­ing, crime, jobs and wa­ter.

Min­is­ter Naugh­ten must also be won­der­ing how many more of the pledges he ne­go­ti­ated will be aban­doned by the Taoiseach and his party com­rades at the first sign of po­lit­i­cal trou­ble.

A RED C poll on Fri­day said al­most half of vot­ers think the gov­ern­ment will col­lapse in less than a year. Given last week’s sham­bolic it’s dif­fi­cult to ar­gue with them and that’s hardly a recipe for a sta­ble gov­ern­ment.

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