Last week, some 70 days after the election, Ireland at last got a new government.
A process that normally takes days dragged on for weeks on end as Taoiseach Enda Kenny tried to get enough support to keep Fine Gael in power as a minority government and hold on to the top job for himself. When he finally managed it, there was little sense of celebration. This is the worst effort at putting a government together we have seen here in a very long time.
The ramshackle new cabinet is a mess, a fudge of independents, mediocre newbies and more experienced oldies, some of whom have been shifted into lower profile positions because they might have posed a threat to Kenny.
The only rationale apparent in the Cabinet make-up is Kenny's wish to prolong his time in office. That is why the two main contenders to succeed him, former Health Minister Leo Varadkar and former Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, have been moved sideways rather than being promoted into the most important ministries.
Having failed to win enough seats in the election despite rescuing the country after the crash, Fine Gael barely survived as the largest party. Most people in the party blame Kenny's lackluster performance, and many feel he needs to hand over the leadership sooner rather later. But it's clear from the way he put this Cabinet together that he intends to cling on as long as he can.
Varadkar has frequently been mentioned as a likely successor. Kenny moved him from health to social protection, the welfare department which controls huge spending but offers little opportunity for change or innovation.
One of the most articulate and personable young ministers, Varadkar might have hoped for a more prestigious role in the new Cabinet and his new position is clearly a demotion. He could have been left in health, the graveyard of political careers. But it is an indication of how determined Kenny was to clip his wings that he shifted him into a role with lower visibility.
Coveney, probably the most able of the generation behind Kenny, is an even greater threat. He has been moved into the old Department of the Environment, which has been renamed to make housing a priority and which also has responsibility for water services.
At a stroke, Kenny has landed Coveney with the two most contentious issues facing the new government, the housing crisis and the water charges mess. There's no easy solution to either problem and the attempt to find one will take the shine off his image. One can imagine Kenny chuckling away to himself about softening Coveney's cough.
At least there is some sense to those moves from Kenny's point of view. But some of the other Cabinet appointments make no discernible sense at all.
Why make 29-year-old Simon Harris the minister for health, a difficult role that requires proven ability and substantial experience? Harris may be a rising star of Fine Gael, but he's a baby in political terms. Varadkar and his predecessor at health, James Reilly, are both medical doctors so at least they knew the system. Harris is an absolute beginner.
Even more puzzling is the removal of Richard Bruton from the important jobs and enterprise ministry and his replacement with a completely inexperienced newbie, the former junior schoolteacher Mary Mitchell O'Connor.
As the many American company chief executives who dealt with him here will know, Bruton was extremely good at his job. He was an economist (Oxford) before he became a politician and has held several senior ministerial positions. Yet he has been replaced in the jobs and enterprise portfolio by someone with no financial or ministerial know how.
A possible explanation may be that he mounted a challenge to Kenny a few years ago and the taoiseach is eating his revenge cold. Also, Kenny may be rewarding Mitchell O'Connor (best known for almost crashing her car in the Dail) for bringing in a second Fine Gael deputy in her area in the election. If Kenny wanted to reward her, he could have put her in the Department of Education (she was a teacher after all) but instead he sent Bruton to education and gave her the vital jobs role.
As with various ministerial appointments in this Cabinet, it's all political. What matters is what's good for Kenny, not what is best for running the country.
Frances Fitzgerald, the weak, ineffective minister for justice who has failed to tackle the crime wave and drug gang murders, has been left in her job when she should have been moved. Not only that, but she has been rewarded by promotion to tanaiste, or deputy prime minister, and is clearly Kenny's preference to succeed him, presumably because he can rely on her to do as she is told and to wait until he is ready to go.
Then there are the independents. Fine Gael got 50 seats in the election and, with Fianna Fail abstaining, needed an extra eight votes in the Dail to be sure of getting Kenny re-elected by the house as taoiseach. After weeks of negotiating with independents he barely made it, getting 59 votes, just one more than he needed -- and the cost was high, with a 160 page document making all kinds of promises to the independents and giving them no less than five seats at the Cabinet table.
Given the raggle taggle nature of the independents, they don't have coherent and detailed national policies despite paying lip service to hot button issues like "water" and "housing." But they do have lots of issues that are important to their own electoral areas that they want prioritized. Behind all the their talk about new politics and national responsibility, the parish pump is still functioning.
There was farcical evidence of this in the hour or two before the vote for taoiseach was to be taken when one of the independents dug his heels in on the turf cutting rights issue (there is opposition in some rural areas to an EU directive which is trying to preserve the few remaining bogland habitats there are left in Europe). For a while it seemed that whether a few people could continue to cut turf was going to stop the country getting a government after more than two months delay, leading to lots of Twitter jokes about the Dail getting "bogged down" again.
A couple of the independents are actually Fine Gael rebels returning to the fold, but there are also a couple of interesting arrivals at the Cabinet table.
One is the plummy-voiced ex-Trinity College Senator Shane Ross, the new transport minister, who was well known in his student days as a successful poker player (your columnist was a college contemporary).
Given all the caustic remarks he has made recently about the gross inefficiency of CIE, Dublin Airport and the rest of our semi-privatized transport system, he's going to need all his bluffing ability to make his new job work.
Much has already been written about the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, given that she is an American, gay and had a high profile in the Marriage Equality campaign. Some of the work she has done for women in deprived areas is admirable.
But is an academic theologian who has only been in Irish politics for a few years really qualified to be a minister? Or has she been given the job simply because she was the first independent to declare that she was going to support Kenny?
Michael Noonan has been left in the most important job, minister for finance, and one could argue that he deserves as much given his steadying and reassuring hand on the national financial tiller as the last government battled through some very stormy waters. But a lot of the credit for our recovery must go to the Troika program and the targets laid down for us by the EU.
And it could be argued that this was the time to give either Bruton or Coveney (whose brother runs one of Ireland's biggest companies) the job of leading us through the financial challenges ahead. That, of course, does not fit with Kenny's strategy to postpone his own retirement as long as possible, but it's an opportunity lost for the country.
Watching this ramshackle government with a beady eye is Fianna Fail, which has given a commitment -- based on an agreed approach to various issues -- that it will not vote it down for at least the next three budgets. The ridiculous position on water charges and the Irish Water national authority is one example of this, leaving Fine Gael with little or no self-respect. Whether the arrangement between the two big parties will be workable when the going gets tough remains to be seen.
In the meantime, we seem to be facing into an era of government by committee. The young minister for health has already announced a big committee to frame a 10-year plan to sort out our health services. A new commission is to assess the future (if any!) of Irish Water, although it may take it a year or more to report (which will suit everyone!)
This may all sound like inclusive "new politics" rather than the nasty "old politics" where everything was dictated by the government party and rammed through the Dail without delay. But it's hardly likely to produce the strong leadership that will be needed in the next year or two to stop us sliding back into the old ways that wrecked the economy and could now wreck the recovery.
That kind of leadership can only come from a strong government and not the weak mishmash now sitting around the Cabinet table here.