Children’s hospital overrun: Key ministers on thin line between being characterised as fools or knaves

Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar: Conflicting messages from both about who will bear responsibility for the over-run at the children’s hospital.

THE single issue arising for the Government from the nurses’ strike and the rolling debacle of the National Children’s Hospital is competence, writes Gerard Howlin.

It’s the essential quality people look for in government. Fine Gael had it from 1995-1997. It lost it afterwards — spectacularly so in the 2002 general election. Compensating taxi drivers and Eircom shareholders, made Fianna Fáil’s promise of medical cards for over-70s look like fiscal prudence. In 2007 when voters dearly wished to be rid of Fianna Fáil, they balked in the final week of the campaign, because Enda Kenny couldn’t put the ball into the back of the net of an open goal.

It was only after Kenny’s mettle was truly tested in the internal party heave against him in 2010 that he became a taoiseach in waiting. The following March he was finally in office. In the four years between, an open goal had become the broad side of a barn; an unmissable object. It is true that unpopular or incompetent governments can buy their way back into office at an election. The problem for this one is that in Leo Varadkar’s ard fheis speech last November, he put his chips down on the table, and bet all on tax cuts. There is not a lot left to play with, and anyway, that game is called catch-up.

Staying ahead means the Government must keep intact its reputation for competence. The consequences of Brexit is one test. A special plea there will be that this was foisted on us. But the nurses and the National Children’s Hospital are another matter. They are homegrown, and there is no trace of Fianna Fáil in the ether this time. What Fine Gael now prides itself on — as Fianna Fáil once did — is that it can be trusted with the economy. 

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