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19 August 2004 Edition

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New brooms, same strokes

It will be a very different 26-County front bench in Leinster House in the autumn.

The appointment of Charlie McCreevy to the EU Commission, along with the resignation of Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh and the much profiled moving of Progressive Democrats' leader Mary Harney from the Enterprise Trade and Employment portfolio, means that even before the details of Bertie Ahern's promised cabinet reshuffle finally emerge, the changes have been rung.

When you add in the swelling government coffers, as tax returns continue their remarkable resurgence, it will also be a cabinet with a good bit of cash to splash around, but will things be any different? Has the cabinet learnt anything in the last seven years in government?

In the months before the 2002 Leinster House elections, government spending increased by a huge 22%, only to fall off post election in a series of vicious and hard hitting cutbacks that hurt the weakest in society most. Are we on the cusp of another Fianna Fáil/PD pre-election splurge?

This new cabinet has a lot of tough decisions to take. For example, is it willing to go through another year of having a budget that leaves the lowest paid in society still in the tax net, while the top income earners work their way through loopholes and tax break schemes?

What is the view of the cabinet on Community Enterprise schemes, so savagely cut in the last two years? Are they willing to recognise the vital role these schemes play in local communities and will they seek to roll back the cuts?

What about transport issues? Will this cabinet find a way to commission major infrastructure projects that can be delivered on time and on budget? Or will they just glory in the endless PR that surrounds the completion of such projects, no matter how long they took to build or how much they cost? The recent LUAS launch is a case in point.

In fact, in every ministerial portfolio there are similar challenges. The question is, are we really dealing with a new broom or just the same old story of fudge, inefficiency and denial?

Whatever about the misguided ideology of this government, at the very least we need some value for our tax euro.

We are less than confident, however, that the new brooms can make a clean sweep.


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