Extreme times call for extreme measures and that’s just what happened this week, when Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti (“Super Mario”) set up a technocratic cabinet to pull Italy from the jaws of almost certain economic catastrophe. To say it’s a radical move is an understatement. With no politicians on board, his cabinet consists of academics, CEOs, diplomats and business professionals. Some have criticised the move, saying it will be extremely difficult for Monti to pass unpalatable measures to deal with the financial crisis through the Italian parliament. Others have given the appointments a guarded welcome citing the severing of ties with the banks and the independence of cabinet as crucial at a time when Italy’s polarised society needs to pull together.
So, freed from the shackles of party politics and the ever-present barometer of the polls, what would a non-political Irish cabinet look like? Here are my suggestions for just some of the portfolios.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaelteacht – Prof Diarmuid Ferriter
Diarmuid Ferriter is one of our greatest modern historians. With a thorough understanding of our social and cultural history, he would be ideally positioned to help us build a bridge from the old to the new and promote a new vision for Ireland, which would remain true to our ancestors but which would leverage everything that the modern world has to offer.
Minister for Sport – Gary Keegan
Gary Keegan is currently Director with the Institute of Sport. Prior to this, he spent five years at high performance director with the IABA (Irish Amateur Boxing Association) and was the chief architect of a pioneering sports programme which delivered 29 medals at European, World and Olympic competitions. According to those who know him, he’s a consummate professional and a major motivating force for the athletes he works with. He still has a relatively low media profile, preferring to concentrate on the job in hand rather than spending his time cultivating a self-indulgent persona for himself in the press.
Minister for Finance – Constantin Gurdgiev
Gurdgiev is an adjunct lecturer in Finance with Trinity College Dublin and has lectured in Economics at University College Dublin and John Hopkins University. He is eminently qualified, therefore to hold the post and to spot when he is being “sold a pig in a poke”. I can’t ever imagine the Bank Guarantee scheme seeing the light of day on his watch. His no-nonsense, straight-talking approach to economics is a breath of fresh air. He calls it as it is and is adept at communicating the most complex financial concepts to the public at large.
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation – George Lee
His foray into the political establishment was an unmitigated disaster but one still gets the impression that George Lee wants to do his bit and to make a difference. His latest offering on RTE looks at left of centre thinking which will generate jobs with little or no cost to the taxpayer. Some of the ideas are a little aspirational in fairness but others are grounded in solid fact and could actually generate employment with a little imagination and perseverance. Lee’s exposure to the entrepreneurial underbelly of the country has led to a deep understanding of the issues and challenges faced by small business in particular. What better exponent to harness these ideas and put them in to action?
Minister for Tourism – Francis Brennan
Yes, he’s annoying at times as is his programme “At your Service” on RTE, but you have to hand it to him. He knows his stuff. And Francis Brennan’s long career in the hotel industry, his energy, expertise and experience would be a huge boon to the tourist industry which is struggling under declining visitor numbers and a poor image abroad. Yes, there has been a slight recovery this year but we still have a long way to go to re-establish the revenues and visitor numbers of the boom years.
Minister for Public Sector Reform – Michael O’Leary
Delivering services in the public sector is all about business process. And who knows better about streamlining business processes than our own Michael O’Leary. With his low level of tolerance for unions and single-minded focus on the job in hand, the country would probably be subjected to a period of total chaos while O’Leary puts his stamp on the portfolio and implements his plans. However, I have no doubt that the public sector would emerge lean, mean and far stronger on the other side. I for one, think the short-term anarchy would be worth it long-term.
Minister for Health – Prof John Crown
OK, so strictly speaking he shouldn’t really qualify for my cabinet, as he sits in the Senate, but given that our second house has little executive power, I am including him. A consultant oncologist and graduate of UCD, John Crown has a deep understanding of our health system and in particular where the bottlenecks, inefficiencies and logjams exist. Like Gurdgiev, he is never afraid to speak his mind and openly challenges the establishment with sometimes controversial views. He donated his entire annual salary of €65,000 to cancer research, on taking his seat in the Seanad.
Minister for Children & Youth Affairs – Fergus Finlay
Ex Labour chef de cabinet and advisor to Dick Spring in the 1980s, Finlay has since gone on to work in the area of child welfare and has become one of the strongest advocates for children’s rights in this country. Through his position as CEO of Barnardos, he has a real view from the trenches on the war on child poverty and has a deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing the young today.
It’s a motley crew, there’s no doubt about it. But doesn’t it delight the imagination to wonder, what if?