Mick Mullholland’s Political Notebook - Economic war is only issue

This Government will politically live or die at the hands of voters on its performance on the economy.

This Government will politically live or die at the hands of voters on its performance on the economy.

Other issues, although important, will not hugely influence the voters’ view of the Coalition.

And should the Government spend too much time on angst-ridden arguments about non-economic issues, the vast majority of voters could become very annoyed indeed. Where the Government to fall on one of those issues – a highly unlikely but not entirely impossible development – the retribution of voters would be swift and vicious.

Fianna Fail, still reeling from the hammering it received from an angry public, knows all about just how unforgiving people can be.

Those same people are now battling an appalling recession, with not much light in sight.

The Economic War rages on. And the human fallout continues. True, there have been some positive signs, not least the word from Europe on some ease on our banking debt.

Mind you, there have been some recent signals from Europe that it might not be plain sailing for Ireland in terms of securing the kind of concessions trumpeted by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan some time back.

The assumption is that our overbearing banking debt will be separated from our sovereign debt. We hope to get concessions on the interest rate and the timeframe for repaying the money.

Mr Noonan has put October as the deadline for the delivery of the deal. A failure to secure it by that date would be a devastating setback for the Government and a further blow to the already shattered morale of the Irish people.

So far, also, despite some gaffes, the FG-Labour Government has shown itself to be more focused and competent than the previous administration.

The Dail is more efficient. The absurdly long holidays have been reduced. Some of the waste of public money has also been reduced, although it did not stop the Government breaking pay guidelines for some of its advisers.

It is blatantly obvious that the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, should have told the Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, about the resignation of the HSE Chief Executive, Cathal Magee.

Minister of State for Health Roisin Shortall should also have been informed. But it was hardly the end of the world in terms of Cabinet solidarity.

That the HSE needs sorting out is beyond dispute. A year or so from now will be time to adjudicate on how Dr Reilly is doing in the Department dubbed “Angola’’ by Brian Cowen.

But at least he appears to be trying to do something in terms of reforming our appalling health services which have put a burden on the people as well as the footsoldiers at the daily coalface.

At least Dr Reilly is not squatting in his office wondering about the political fallout from his actions. Too many Ministers do that too often. This Government should be in a hurry all day, every day.

The Economic War has to be won. And the health services have to be sorted. Both are linked. If the economy starts to come right, then any increase in available funding will help the health services.

An immediate priority is dealing with the Frankenstein that is the HSE. Reilly should get on with it. Perhaps a little diplomacy would not go astray. But his priority must be introducing real reform and cost-saving which does not affect the unfortunate patient.

An expert group on abortion is due to report to Dr Reilly in September. Abortion is a sensitive issue and many people hold strong and varying views on it.

There is a commitment in the programme for government to accept the group’s recommendations and deal with any legal anomalies which might exist. The fallout from the X case has yet to be dealt with.

Some Fine Gael TDs have apparently made it clear that any liberalising of the existing laws would be opposed by them. It has been reported that a number indicated they would resign from the party rather than vote for such a measure.

The Government must govern. If some Fine Gael TDs cannot stomach legislation that was effectively promised in a programme for government they initially supported, then they must be allowed jump overboard.

The Government has a comfortable majority. The bluff must be called of any backbenchers using the threat of resigning from the party. Other issues, such as same-sex marriage and the abolition of the Seanad, should not take too much time either.

Same-sex marriage will be introduced in the fullness of time and people will wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.

The abolition of the Seanad is the policy of both parties.

Senators would be better off proposing much-needed reforms for the Upper House rather than complaining about its possible abolition. There are compelling arguments for retaining a reformed Seanad. But people must hear them.

Those kind of peripheral issues should not deflect Government attention on the economy. Winning The Economic War is the big issue. In some respects, it is the only issue.