WEST Cork has had its fair share of celebrated politicos. People like Joe Walsh, Flor Crowley, Jim O’Keeffe, PJ Sheehan, John L O’Sullivan – who were brilliant at ‘doing the auld turn’ for a constituent and for distinguishing themselves in government!
Their likes are not seen often. So, we listened with interest when the philosopher in Dinty’s posed this intriguing conundrum: is Jim Daly a worthy successor to such eminent people? As a minister, will he bring home the bacon to West Cork, so to speak, or is he just a stand-in who ‘struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more’?
Daly earned his stripes in the conspiracy business, having soldiered with the arch-plotter, Vlad the Impaler, in ousting Enda Kenny. Then, on Varadkar assuming the Taoiseach’s mantle, he was rewarded with the job of Junior Minister for Mental Health and Older People.
Which raised the question if Daly was nothing more than a political schemer, a bit of a damp squib (careful, not a damp squid!) who, in government, would fail to come up to expectations? Or was he another John L or a PJ Sheehan?
Mind you, the omens look good. He’s forthright in his opinions, plain and straightforward when it comes to questions about the state, government and the enforcement of law and order. As well, he possesses traits that might, just might, indicate the qualities of a superior FG politico.
He’s also one of the few right-wing politicos in Europe whose ultra conservative opinions have not harmed his career. In fact, like Trump with his supporters in the Deep South, Daly’s opinions have touched a collective cord in West Cork – and fair dues to him!
For instance, during the acrimonious ambulance service controversy back in 2012, he consistently toed the party line, the HSE line and the ministerial line. ‘Reckless scaremongering,’ he harrumphed when describing the would-be reformers, but he didn’t suffer politically because of his condemnation.
He also infuriated members of his own profession, the teachers, when they campaigned against cutbacks in primary schools. He accused his colleagues of ‘trotting out emotive nonsensical, bland rubbish, cheap expressions such as ‘vulnerable children’ and similar razzmatazz.’
And, having discovered that teachers had been paid €2.5 billion in allowances over five years, he demanded ‘cost-cutting opportunities’ that would reduce their pay. An infuriated ASTI (secondary teachers union) suggested he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, that he was spouting ‘utter and malicious nonsense’ and that he was indulging in the latest popular sport: teacher bashing! Again, no major side effects.
Last year, he advocated hitting water-charge defaulters with rolling €10 monthly fines until they owed enough money to be brought to court.
He vigorously promoted the now utterly discredited ‘Gateway’ scheme, which allowed unemployed people work on county council schemes. He called it ‘an example of common sense at work.’ Sadly, of the 205 people taken on by Cork County Council, not one got permanent employment with the local authority.
But, those debacles did not damage his reputation. On the contrary, and although becoming the Mini-minister for Old Codgers, he has refused to modify his uncompromising adherence to right-wing firmness in political life.
Within days of his appointment, he stated that the power of the trade unions in the health sector was the greatest barrier to reform and progress. Par for the course as groans all round greeted this bizarre announcement!
Yet, although he's no friend of the working class, Blueshirts admire his hardline persona. Being a neo-con of the authoritarian right might not be hip just now in Veradkar’s modish world but it certainly defines Daly’s public image. Just as it did for another West Cork right-winger, Michael Collins!
Here to stay
It’s interesting too that, against the odds, Daly has maintained a good relationship with his constituents, who don’t seem to mind how he occasionally comes across. They like his dogmatic assertions because he expresses himself in a direct way, whereas Fine Gael pronouncements rarely, if ever, sound convincing.
But, then, for a party like Fine Gael, truth is deliberately oblique and political statements are intended to have the function of only seeming to be true. West Cork accepts this as normal politics. Daly doesn’t.
Most importantly, he avoids deafening people when trying to get across his unpalatable right-wing message.
Conclusion? Unless he makes a complete bags of his ministerial responsibilities, he’s here to stay, even though currently handling a hot potato – the Fair Deal scheme, otherwise known as the Nursing Homes Support Scheme. Its purpose is to address elderly care and, up to now, Minister Jimmy is saying all the right things.
As part of October’s Budget, he has promised to reduce costs to nursing home residents.
Elderly residents contribute 80% of their income to the nursing home in which they reside. Our Jim wants this reduced to 70%. He also intends to restore home-help hours that have been slashed since 2010 and to put healthcare back in the community through primary care centres.
The Fair Deal Scheme is designed to make nursing home care affordable while allowing clients to keep the family home and land. It works like this: the amount one pays depends on income (pensions and savings), and on the value of assets (house and land).
Eighty per cent of one’s pension goes to pay the nursing home. Residents also must cough up 7.5pc a year of the value of the assets (there is a three-year cap on payments based on the family home). The State covers any outstanding balance. This year the scheme had a budget of €940 million, providing support for 23,600 people.
Age Action Ireland says costs are too high for elderly people and that many are obliged to sell the family home in order to reduce the value of assets built up over a lifetime.
Farmers aren’t happy either. They claim the scheme is discriminatory in the sense that it makes the passing down of a farm from one generation to the next ‘more precarious.’
And, to make matters more complex for Daly, last month the Attorney General warned against any reform that would favour farmers over other business owners.
Daly also has to contend with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy who provocatively called for vacant houses owned by nursing home residents to be used to alleviate the housing crisis. He said he would introduce ‘incentives.’
The canny Daly was not enthusiastic, telling Murphy he would look into it. No doubt at the back of his mind was the warning from groups representing the elderly that people should not be pressured into selling or renting their homes.
One way or the other, the Drinagh man has his hands full!