EVEN though the will of the people to oust Fine Gael from government, as voted by the majority in the general election seven weeks ago, is not being honoured, there is a solid argument for leaving the caretaker government it is leading in power for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis given the leadership acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris have been showing since it started.
On the other hand, several people have been saying that the time has come for a national government to be formed to run the country in the difficult months ahead, but that would involve putting many new and inexperienced ministers into portfolios that they are not familiar with when the absolute priority has to be our ongoing efforts to keep the deadly coronavirus at bay as far as possible.
Unfortunately, the health and housing crises that also urgently need to be dealt with have been totally overshadowed by the Covid-19 emergency, which is dictating where resources go, and by the time it is dealt with, the new government – whatever form it takes – will be dealing with the probable necessity of having to plan another economic recovery because the country’s finances will be severely depleted in its wake with our reserves used up and a lot of extra money, unavoidably, having been borrowed.
The money that was put aside in Budget 2020 to cushion the effects of a no-deal Brexit has been gobbled up already trying to slow the spread of Covid-19 and, unfortunately, there is nothing put aside to cover the eventuality of any failure to reach a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union by the deadline of the end of this year.
The final bill for tackling the coronavirus will be absolutely enormous and Irish taxpayers will be paying it back for many years to come. That is something we will have no choice but to accept and it will make life difficult for whoever is negotiating the next programme for government.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has redeemed himself somewhat as a result of the leadership he has shown so far during this crisis, one he was thrown in at the deep end of, just as he thought he was heading with Fine Gael to the opposition benches. Drawing also on his previous experience as a medical doctor and a former Minister for Health, his address to the nation on St Patrick’s Night was as calm and re-assuring as it could have been under the circumstances, yet conveyed the seriousness of the situation and got across the need for all of us to act together to slow down the spread of the virus.
Such leadership and that displayed also by the other acting government ministers in the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 is what is needed for the foreseeable future until things are brought under control and the public health service can cope again. Nobody knows how long that is going to take, so it looks like being of indefinite duration.
The restoration of the political reputations of some high-profile Fine Gaelers may prove of benefit to them in the next election perhaps, but will not count for much when the government following this election is being formed, as Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and her Fianna Fáil counterpart Micheál Martin will be anxious to re-assert their credentials to lead the country – and who’s to say that they won’t explore going into government together in this most extraordinary and unprecedented year?