IMPORTANT ROLES FOR LOCAL REPS

10 July 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

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With the cast list of both Government and Opposition now finalised, it is clear that Oireachtas representatives from Cavan/Monaghan, and some from other bailiwicks who have significant links with the constituency, will be significant players in the political drama beginning to unfold on the national stage at a defining moment for both the Irish economy and Irish society.

The roles they will play in both the formulation and forensics of policy in the months ahead will bear significantly on how well the nation manages the challenging fiscal and societal recovery from the still glowering threat of the Coronavirus, and will determine to what extent and with what effectiveness the pressing challenges that faced the country prior to the appearance of Covid-19 can be tackled in its unavoidably restricting and complicating aftermath.

The allocation of significant Ministerial responsibility to Fine Gael Deputy Heather Humphreys in the new tripartite Government alliance was no surprise. Her able discharge of the Business, Enterprise and Innovation portfolio in the last Government, which placed her at the forefront of the national responses to both Brexit and the pandemic, and the obvious trust resided in her by her party leader, made her seat at the Cabinet table assured. And Minister Humphreys will continue to be central to the issues of the times. Her responsibility for the portfolio of Social Protection will place her front and centre of the Government’s negotiation of the Covid-19 economic conundrum – how to ensure that the country gets back on its own two feet from the point of view of employment and productivity as quickly as possible.

This week the Minister was accentuating the positive in relation to the steadily reducing number of people claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment support as businesses and places of employment emerged from Covid-imposed hibernation, and pointing to the soon-tobe announced economic stimulus package as a potential source of rescue for those whose jobs had vanished in the pandemic restrictions. Like the new Government as a whole, Minister Humphreys will have a short honeymoon period, fuelled by the stimulus package, during which the intent will be to begin to incrementally withdraw the prohibitively expensive temporary payment initiatives which have served as a life support for many aspects of the Coronavirus-afflicted economy.

But no matter how delicately this process is managed, it will not be accomplished without pain, and some measure of recrimination from businesses and their employees unable to live without the life supports. While the hard decisions will be taken in other Departments, Minister Humphreys as the public face of Social Protection will have to field the hard questions when the PUP and the TWSS start to be phased out and unemployment figures begin to rise. It is a role which will require just as much felicitous management as the unpredictability and complexity of Brexit.

As if this were not enough to occupy her, the Cavan/Monaghan FG Deputy also has responsibility in her expansive portfolio for Community and Rural Development and the Islands. But has previous Ministerial experience in community and rural affairs, considerable empathy and feeling for what they entail, and will undoubtedly be glad to have retained a “giving” element in her Ministry that will allow her to intermittently announce small but significant bundles of financial aid for local development projects. This will be a welcome antidote when her Social Protection duties turn to the less pleasant necessity of “taking away”. Another Monaghan presence at the Cabinet table will be Catherine Martin of Carrickmacross.

Although representative of Dublin Rathdown and not her native health, Ms Martin’s broad range of Ministerial duties bear very significantly on matters of interest to Co Monaghan and the wider Border region, where cross-community relations have been both reignited and newly forged by projects founded on common artistic and cultural interests and the desire for mutual cultural understanding between previously clashing and conflicting traditions. Her acute awareness of the substantial value of artistic, cultural and linguistic endeavours in healing conflict should inform how she handles these elements of her portfolio. But perhaps her most crucial role will be in the newly created Media area of Ministerial responsibility. Problems that have long beset the provincial media sector, its print manifestation in particular, with regard to maintaining advertising revenue and circulation have been exacerbated by the pandemic impact at a time when the role of the independent local media as a circulator of information and a public service provider assumed accentuated importance.

This is an area to which Minister Martin must assign priority. It is to be hoped that she will provide a listening ear to the representative bodies of both media publishers and journalistic practitioners and will engage in action to address their concerns. Fianna Fáil leader and new Taoiseach Micheál Martin found himself with not enough gifts to give when it came to handing out Ministerial and Junior Ministerial posts, and while the complaints from west of the Shannon sounded loudest in the media there were also sizeable grumbles from Cavan/Monaghan when neither Brendan Smith nor Niamh Smyth sere assigned positions. Deputy Smyth undoubtedly suffered from the western backlash which Mr Martin found himself having to placate when the Junior roles were assigned – her time may not be now, but it will be surely soon.

But has time now passed for Deputy Smith, not so long ago a stalwart of FF Governments and Opposition front benches? We suspect not – his depth of knowledge of Border affairs and acumen for diplomacy will surely be deployed at Oireachtas sub-committee level in the areas of Brexit and North-South relations. Mr Martin offered compensation to the constituency by the appointment of Senator Robbie Gallagher as his party’s Spokesperson on Justice in the Seanad. And this may prove of substantial future value to Cavan/Monaghan given Senator Gallagher’s successful advancement of important ground rent legislation during the last Seanad term, demonstrating that the Upper House can have a policy value beyond that of more endorsement. In a Dáil where there will be an unprecedented sharpness of definition between Government and Opposition, the appointment by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald of Cavan/Monaghan’s Matt Carthy as Agriculture Spokesperson is one of particular significance.

Deputy Carthy while an MEP did much to establish SF as a political voice of relevance and trustworthiness to the farming community, and there is little doubt that the success enjoyed by his party in the last General Election owed more than a little to this act of bridge-building.

At a time when the farming community will be watching the trend of Government policy with particular closeness given the sensitivities surrounding the emissions issue, Deputy Carthy will have a key watchdog role which he will certainly pursue with zeal.

And tight marking will also be expected by Mary Lou McDonald from Cavan/Monaghan’s Pauline Tully in the areas of Disability and Carers for which she has been assigned Junior Spokesperson responsibility. Deputy Tully will be keen to honour the legacy of her predecessor Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin whose advancement of disability issues in the last Dáil was notable.

The Great Game begins – and we have plenty of players to watch.

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