Playing hardball and boxing clever
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.
All right, there is a sense of déjà vu about it, but at least there is conflict and disputation. Journalists love nothing better than a row and here we have a good old parliamentary standoff to entertain us.
As things stand at time of writing, the official position of FG is that nobody will get a pairing* other than Mary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who is off in Rumania with President McAleese (you would have seen them both on the news tonight, getting the full treatment on arrival.)
Fianna Fáil are boxing clever. Okay, they are saying, if you won’t agree to a pairing arrangement, the Taoiseach can’t go to the UN where he is due to speak tomorrow. As of yesterday afternoon, FG were hanging tough, on the basis that nothing is more important than the economy at the moment.
But if they do stop Cowen going to New York it will be hung around their neck for years. Can you imagine the FF rhetoric on that issue? So don’t be surprised if FG back down just a little bit on that one. Likewise it appears that Bertie Ahern has had a pairing arrangement but there is a question-mark over that too, unless there is an Old Pals Act that can be invoked.
FG are proposing a private members’ motion on the economy which will take up three hours over today and tomorrow. The Government has put in a counter-motion and there will be a vote tomorrow (Thursday) about 12.2o pm.
Although the Government has a majority of 12 (13 if you include the Ceann Comhairle), there are a lot of absent pupils. Micheál Martin, Peter Power and Martin Cullen are in the ‘States; Conor Lenihan in Tanzania; John Cregan and Michael Woods are due to go to family weddings on the Continent; Barry Andrews has private family business; Bertie apparently is making himself scarce; Cowen, as stated, is due to go to New York while Mary Coughlan and Dermot Ahern head are both due in Brussels on Thursday. That makes a total of 11 altogether.
It looks like Fine Gael are going to play hardball in this Dáil session. A friend of mine from the UK opined to me recently that Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen were in very similar positions but that the British PM had a much more formidable opponent in David Cameron than ‘Biffo’ had in Enda Kenny.
Given the state of the economy, though, you might not need to be all that formidable to put Fianna Fáil out of office. Latest poll evidence shows Fianna Fáil down and FG up and this is only at the start of the economic crisis. Brian Cowen is highly-intelligent, but does he have Bertie’s popular appeal?
Sadly, as the economic stormclouds thicken above us, a clear voice and brilliant mind who shed daily light on the deepening crisis is no longer here to guide us. Last Sunday, Paul Tansey, Economics Editor of The Irish Times, suddenly and tragically collapsed and died at the age of 59, while playing tennis with his longtime friend Senator Shane Ross.
Paul was a really fine journalist and a most helpful and obliging colleague. He had a great sense of humour and always saw the funny, upbeat side of things. Having stormed his way to the top of the journalistic profession back in the late 1970s and early ’80s, he opted for a change of career and became a highly-successful economic and business consultant.
More recently he had come back to journalism and his beloved Irish Times, where he quickly resumed the starring role he held in the past. Readers will miss his clear, succinct analysis; colleagues and friends will miss a great human being. Heartfelt condolences go to Olivia and their daughter Emily. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann (We shall not see his likes again.)
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times
*Two members of a parliament from opposing parties, who agree to abstain from voting on an issue, thereby offsetting each other.