Politics »

  • Crisis, what crisis?

    September 30, 2008 @ 7:40 pm | by Harry McGee

    One of my favourite documentaries of all time is Errol Morris’s masterful portrait of Robert McNamara, JFK and Lyndon Johnson’s defence secretary during the Vietnam War. The film is essentially McNamara speaking – with extraordinary clarity intelligence and insight – about the 11 lessons he has learned in life.


  • How to become US President: smile, stay away from specifics

    September 29, 2008 @ 12:01 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    It looks like John McCain’s intervention in the bailout crisis – when he suspended his  campaign and made a dash to Washington - hasn’t  had the desired effect. Latest opinion poll evidence shows Obama ahead by eight points.  Sometimes in politics masterly inactivity is the best approach.

    In fact, Obama has a very good line in looking good, smiling broadly (he has a marvellous warm smile, a great advantage in American or indeed any politics) and not saying anything very specific. His candidacy is in some ways a cultural rather than political phenomenon.

    Firstly, given the state of the economy and the whole subprime-bailout mess, any candidate for the Democrats has a natural advantage. You can get votes just by being there.

    Secondly, entering into specifics might win over one constituency but it will alienate another. Keep on keeping on and talking in vague generalities. It’s about winning and, as broadcaster George Hook said in his private briefing (well, it was supposed to be private until we journos heard about it) to the recent Fine Gael think-in, coming second is irrelevant. Sorry if it sounds cynical but these are the hard facts of political life.

     The appeal of Obama is that he is a new face with a new style. He gives us to  understand that he would be more conciliatory than his predecessor in international affairs. The assumption is there would be no more adventures like the Iraq invasion.

    As with JFK, if Obama wins it will be said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation”. But every political leader has to contend with what Macmillan called “events, dear boy” and it was Kennedy who got the US embroiled in Vietnam. And who would  have thought Blair would be the one to get Britain caught up in the former Mesopotamia again?

    A friend of mine who was recently in Iraq reports that the country is settling down. The “surge” seems to have worked. But at what cost. One would still find it very hard to argue that the invasion was justified in the first place. Sure, it would be painful for the Americans to have to listen to loudmouth Saddam and see him strutting the stage if he were still around but was it worth all that blood and treasure to get rid of him?

    The enthusiasm for Obama in Ireland is almost universal, stretching from the right in the form of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to the near-left in the Labour Party and the Greens, not to mention innumerable dinner-parties in South Dublin and other parts.

    The Democrats have suggested that US firms opting to set up in places like Ireland which offer low corporate tax rates should be penalised because of the consequent job-losses back home. Speaking on RTE’s Questions and Answers, US Ambassador Thomas Foley said this was unlikely but, if it did, the effect could be “dramatic”. It also looks as if McCain would be better for the undocumented Irish in the US, judging from the comments of lobbyist Ciarán Staunton. 

    Apart from Iraq — where the disagreement is becoming more and more historical — and abortion, there don’t seem to be any massive divergences of policy between the two candidates. No doubt the race will have further ups and downs before polling day and the result cannot be safely predicted as yet. Meanwhile, if you want a smile check out the Sarah Palin take-off on Saturday Night Live

    Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times

  • Brother, where art thou?

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:31 am | by Harry McGee

    The first thing I did when I got home after the holidays was turn on the radio.

    The second thing I did was to change channels.  It’s a simple law of physics. Half an hour of Liveline will ruin every minute of 10 days away from home.

    And that is how I stumbled across Gordon Brown.


  • McCain risks all on campaign gamble

    September 26, 2008 @ 10:33 am | by Deaglán de Bréadún


    Any sentient and half-decent human being who grew up during the era of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement would have to look kindly on the prospect of an African-American as President of the US. But John McCain is doing his best to ensure that doesn’t happen on this occasion.  (more…)

  • Playing hardball and boxing clever

    September 24, 2008 @ 12:00 am | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    It’s shaping up to be a lively Dáil session when the TDs reassemble at Teach Laighean this morning and already there is a fairly decent story for the journos to get their teeth into. Fine Gael wanted an emergency debate on the economy, the Government said No, now FG are refusing to give pairings to FF ministers jetting off to the UN and sundry other destinations. (more…)

  • Get down on your knees and pray

    September 20, 2008 @ 11:30 am | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Your humble scribe was too busy to blog this week, what with covering the Progressive Democrat meeting in Newbridge to discuss their funeral arrangements, followed by a dash to Clare – but only inches across the border from Limerick –  for the two-day Fine Gael “think-in”, and then on to Tralee to check out the Greens. (more…)

  • No room at the inn with Fianna Fáil

    September 16, 2008 @ 11:03 am | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Some months ago, shortly after he took office, Taoiseach Brian Cowen (politely) rebuked this reporter for portraying the country’s economic prospects in excessively stark terms. Ah come on, things are not that bad, was his message. He is singing a different tune today. (more…)

  • Pee Dee or not Pee Dee, that is the question

    September 15, 2008 @ 11:30 am | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Bigger parties must wonder what they have to do to get the media attention that is lavished on the Progressive Democrats. Probably the reason is that the PDs were different: not a catch-all party that stood for anything and everything but a radical party of the right. (more…)

  • Will Fine Gael ever get back into government?

    September 13, 2008 @ 12:24 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    There is an old radical dictum that, “If voting could change anything, they’d abolish it.” You used to see it scrawled on placards at demonstrations, penned by some obscure anarchists from the fringe. I have a feeling it was on display at the big anti-Iraq War march in Dublin back in 2003.

            The one thing we can do by voting is to change the government. This used to be pretty straightforward, you simply voted for or against Fianna Fáil (depending on whether they were in or out of office, if you follow me). Since FF abandoned what Pádraig Flynn said was one of its “core values” and opted for mixed marriages of convenience, the result of voting for one party or another is less certain.

           It is probably the case that virtually all the people who voted for the Greens in previous general elections, except possibly last year’s poll, never expected them to get into bed with the Soldiers of Destiny. But there they are, working quite happily with their senior partners.

           Sure, there are issues of contention which either Ciarán Cuffe or Dan Boyle, neither of whom are in cabinet, will ventilate publicly. But by and large, the Greens are delighted to be in government; they feel they are achieving things and mirabile dictu party membership has reportedly increased by a third.

            Labour have, as we know, been in and out of government for decades. They finally crossed the Rubicon in 1992 by forming a coalition with FF whom they had portrayed for a long time as something akin to the Devil Incarnate.

             Sinn Féin are in government with their old arch-enemies, the DUP in the North. The party would clearly like to be in office down here as well, on the appropriate terms. The results of the 2007 election showed that an alternative to the FF-led coalition was possible. SF made it plain that it was ready to enter negotiations with other parties about coalition, including Fine Gael.

            On June 10th last year, speaking on RTE Radio’s This Week, SF’s Caoimhghín O Caoláin said: “We are available and willing to speak with all different opinion, including Enda Kenny and Fine Gael; we have ruled out absolutely nothing.” And he continued: “If Enda Kenny is serious, for heaven’s sake, let’s put the question to him, why has he not contacted Sinn Féin, or is all this about Enda Kenny being an alternative a load of nonsense?”

             People with long memories were reminded of 1948, when an extremely-disparate group of parties formed a coalition under John A. Costello and ended 16 uninterrupted years of Fianna Fáil rule. Clann na Poblachta were identical twins of today’s Sinn Féin and their leader, Seán MacBride, had been the IRA chief of staff.

           If you want a government led by either FF or FG, it seems the only way to ensure the outcome of your choice is to vote for one of those two parties. Despite the Tallaght Strategy espoused in 1987 by Alan Dukes, it seems the prospect of an FF-FG coalition remains a most unlikely eventuality.

            Next week we shall have the  “think-ins” of the two main parties followed by the Greens. FF are in Galway on Monday and Tuesday; FG in Limerick on Wednesday and Thursday and the Greens in Tralee on Thursday and Friday. The FF event looks predictable, although you can never be sure.  The announcement of an early Budget showed that Brian Cowen is capable of springing a surprise.

             FG are being somewhat reticent. They may have something up their sleeve. There is talk of proposing a constitutional amendment to protect Ireland’s tax autonomy, especially its low tax rate for corporate investors, from the beady eyes of our European partners.

               FG have a new political director, Michael McLoughlin, replacing Gerry Naughton. The new man is not well-known to the media. He has a simple, straightforward task: get the party back into government.

             How to go about this task is, of course, another matter. Hollywood legend Sam Goldwyn said, “Predictions are very hard to make, especially about the future” but we may see a situation after the next election where FG has a similar choice to last year’s. The price of office may be cooperation with the “Shinners”. They dithered over a similar decision in the past regarding Democratic Left but then pinched their collective nose and took the plunge.

           The one thing we probably won’t hear much about at the FG “think-in” is the party’s 75th birthday. They were founded back in 1933 and their first leader was the Blueshirt chief Eoin O’Duffy. Interestingly, O’Duffy was previously IRA Chief of Staff for a period. Like Seán MacBride. And like one or two Sinn Féin people, perhaps?

    Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times

  • Living city or living hell?

    September 11, 2008 @ 6:10 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Judging from my colleague Frank  McDonald’s article in yesterday’s Irish Times,  Temple Bar in Dublin is a living hell for local residents, at least at night. Many readers will identify with McDonald’s cri de coeur, whether they live in the city centre as he does or in what used to be quiet suburbia. (more…)

  • Obama shoots himself in the foot

    September 10, 2008 @ 6:38 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Does Barack Obama have what the playwright Sean O’Casey called  ”a titther of sense”? Having initially shown sensitivity and gentlemanly instincts by holding back when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin came under vicious personal attack by some of his supporters, the Illinois Senator has now shot himself in the foot with his “lipstick on a pig” remark. (more…)

  • Noel Grealish – going, going, gone

    @ 4:52 pm | by Harry McGee

    The death of a close neighbour in Galway prevented Noel Grealish from attending the PD’s parliamentary party meeting in Dublin today. The occurrence has certainly put a stay of execution on a party of which he is only one of two TDs and one of four parliamentary party members.

    Grealish aligned himself very closely to Michael McDowell in the run-up to the leadership race in 2006 and, from what I’ve heard, he has been semi-detached from the party since the election. Not alone has he been courted by Fianna Fail – he has let the world know about it. It’s interesting that it is Eamon O Cuiv who made the overtures – if (and that should really read ‘when’) Greally makes the jump, it will have no impact on O Cuiv but will have on Frank Fahey who will be fishing from the same pool for votes.

    The seat that Grealish occupies is really Bobby Molloy’s seat. When he won it in 2002, he had not forged a sufficient profile for him and was one of three PD candidates who ran in that election. Last year, the PDs still felt they had a need to run multiple candidates to shore up support for Grealish. That illustrates that the seat there isn’t really one based on Grealish’s popularity but one based on the strong base the PDs have in Galway (or properly defined, the strong personal organisation that Bobby Molloy had built up).

    Grealish’s behaviour has been odd and (in the eyes of some party members) unhelpful since the election. He backed Ciarán Cannon for the leadership but most of Cannon’s time has been spend  trying to persuade Grealish to stay in. Others understand that he gave a commitment to stay until the local election. But it’s clear from his own pronoucements that he wants out.

    He gave a ludicrous comment to Jim Fahy earlier this week when he said that newspaper speculation was just that, pure speculation. And who was fuelling all this speculation. Erm, Noel Grealish. He also refused to comment on his future with the party. He has to realise that this is the way that it works. You either declare your loyalty or you don’t.

    Nobody is predicting the long-time survival of the PDs. But the growing indications are that it may not survive long past the next parliamentary party meeting.

  • Pendulum swings towards McCain

    September 8, 2008 @ 12:07 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    Only a couple of weeks ago I would have said Barack Obama was going to win the US presidency in November. John McCain by contrast looked old, tired and very much  yesterday’s man. But since the two conventions I have changed my mind and I’m putting my money on McCain at this stage. (more…)

  • Brian Cowen on the Late Late Show

    September 5, 2008 @ 12:40 pm | by Harry McGee

    The Late Late Show has become a rehab centre for prominent politicians whose careers are hitting a downer, providing a home-grown Oprah moment to give a little lift to flagging reputations.

    It’s did the trick for Bertie (his LLS show appearance in the run-up to the 2007 campaign did him no harm at all as he showed himself expert at striking exactly the right balance between serious politician and man of the people).

    Tonight will be very important for Cowen. There has been no substantial interview with him for two months and tonight will tell us a lot about the measure of the man. He’ll have to be able to give a strong impression to the public that he is in command and knows how to get the country out of this crisis when Pat Kenny asks hard questions (and, with his current affaris edge, he will ask hard questions).

    He’ll also to be able to lighten up and show a little of his human side, his talent for mimickry, his quick wit.

    And as sure as rain on any give day this summer and autumn, Brian Cowen will be prevailed upon to belt out a song… which he will do!.

    It’s the Late Late and it’s classed as light entertainment. But don’t let that fool you. This is an enormous test. The history of the show is littered with dead political stiffs like Padraig Flynn’s spectacular gaffe about Tom Gilmarting and then Northern secretary Peter Brooke’s disastrous decision to sing ‘My Darling Clementine’ only days after an IRA bomb had killed several people in 1992.

    Cowen is a bit like Eamon Dunphy. You are so mesmerised when they are outraged or outspoken or on the warpath that you forget how incredibly dull and boring they can be at other times. Cowen is ultra cautious and always on guard. So his biggest danger when asked about the economy will be giving long indeterminate and rambling answers, kicking to touch in slow motion.

    The problem with the human side of the interview is that he just won’t lighten up. He was on with the supreme witterer and interview-lite merchant Ryan Tubridy early this year and came across as stolid and wooden. The same happened with Pat Rabbitte. This kind of chat show dross is well outside their milieu and their comfort zone… unlike the chameleon Bertie who thrived.

    Of course, it’s important to hear what Cowen does say. Knowing his paranoid caution, he’s going to let no cats out of any bags. But he needs to be able to communciate the sense of where the Government’s thinking is and the kind of strategy they want to implement. And despite the Government media handlers dismissing my story about a State of the Nation address at every turn, you know, if it works out well for Cowen tonight… this might in fact be it.

    But it will be keenly watched on all kinds of levels. This will be our first real chance to assess whether the dauphin prince of many years is really a king, or merely another man who would be king.

    If you want another listen to his rendition of Paddy’s Green Shamrock in Tullamore (with cartoon accompaniment!) here it is:

    YouTube Preview Image
  • Sarah Palin

    September 4, 2008 @ 2:15 pm | by Harry McGee

    The Alaskan Governor apparently gave a barnstorming and electrifying speech in St Paul last night after a rocky couple of days.

    The saying ‘events dear boy, events’ may be cliché bit it’s also true. (more…)

  • Emergency Budget or just a bit of bud-nipping?

    September 3, 2008 @ 8:48 pm | by Harry McGee

    The British chancellor of the Exchequer Alasdair Darling gave the most spine-chilling quote of the year last Saturday when he said that Britain was facing its worst crisis in 60 years.

    Tonight Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was asked his opinion on it at a briefing for political correspondents. He dismissed it but did accept that from a financial and fiscal perspective it’s the biggest challenge the Government has faced since Ray MacSharry was in ‘Mac the Knife’ mode back in 1987.

    Fiscally, moving the Budget forward by seven weeks will not make all that much of a difference. It’s Budget 2009 and the Finance Bill that implements its measures also says 2009. That means that the fiscal measures can’t be introduced until January2009.

    Granted, any increases in excise duties will come into effect immediately but they won’t really affect the overall financial performance for 2008.

    Which is disastrous, not to put too fine a point on it. Taxes €5bn lower than expected (and maybe €6bn). A full-on property slump.

    So why the need to shift everything forward for seven weeks?

    Well, the decision is political. It is an unprecedented move and is probably designed to show that the Government is doing something, is taking action, is ready to make the tough choices that will have to be made.

    Lenihan gave no indication of what measures he will take. He attributed the dramatic downtrun to property but also to the international credit crunch. His focus on the liquidity problem where banks won’t lend to banks gave rise to some speculation that the Government might intervene and back-up or guarantee loans for homebuyers. There are economists like the excellent Alan Ahearne in NUI, Galway who say that there should be no intervention, that the property market needs to be left alone to correct itself, no matter how painful that is.

    A few other hints? Lenihan referred to every 1 per cent rise in public sector pay costing €180 million. That’s a no-brainer. Wage restraint/freezes will be the order of the day.

    Otherwise we’ll wait.

    Today Dermot Ahern called for cooperation from the opposition parties.

    Will they cooperate?

    For the answer to that, see the response that Michael Bailey gave to Jim Gogarty when he asked whether they should ask Ray Burke for a receipt for the £30,000 bungs they gave him.

  • Bogus politics and bogey politics

    @ 1:27 pm | by Harry McGee

    I noticed that both Joan Burton and Richard Bruton used golfing metaphors when lambasting Brian Cowen last night for his performance on the economy. Joan has a penchant for far-flung metaphors which she applies more thickly and copiously to her copy than  fake tan at a debs’ ball  (you get the drift). Anyways, poor old Cowen was more Darren Clarke than Padraig Harrington. Our golfing Taoiseach was below par everywhere else but on the golf course.


  • Could Lisbon be Cowen’s downfall?

    September 2, 2008 @ 6:53 pm | by Deaglán de Bréadún

    The more I read of the debate on Lisbon and its aftermath, the  more it seems we are at a crossroads in Irish political life. The irresistible force has finally met the immovable object. (more…)

  • Think or Swim?

    @ 10:26 am | by Harry McGee

    Whoever dreamt up the term ‘think-in’ to describe the two-day gathering of the various Irish political tribes needs to be issued with a blindfold, a brick wall, and a lit cigarette.

    Think-in makes the assumption that nothing else but thinking goes on. Now unless you spell the first two letters of the word with ‘dr’ not ‘th’ -  just about everything else but thinking goes on.


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