Cowen, Churchill and Yogi Berra
Deaglán de Bréadún
Well, he’s done it. Brian Cowen finally took the advice of the commentariat, not to mention the evening newspaper which ran the headline today: “Just Do It”. The unions couldn’t or wouldn’t sign up, so he went ahead and imposed the paycut disguised as a pension levy.
General reaction in Leinster House was that he performed resonably well. It’s not his decisions that have been the problem up to now so much as the way he has presented them. People want Churchillian passion and commitment, not a solicitor from Offaly listlessly reading a prepared script.
There was no script in view, at least not from my seat in the second row, during the press conference he gave in Government Buildings tonight. Some of it was carried on the Six O’Clock RTE News and apparently came across quite well. It was a big decision to go viva voce and the reaction was fairly good.
Most other members of the Cabinet were sitting close by, none of them looking particularly happy with life it has to be said. Politicians hate to be the bearers of bad news.
The press conference was quite sedate: no one was in a mood for confrontation. The scenario had been played out many times in advance, so there were no surprises.
It was noteworthy how often Cowen protested the importance of the Social Partnership process: it hadn’t worked on this occasion but it wasn’t dead.
The general suspicion in these here parts is that the union leadership just could not allow themselves to be put in a position where they had to break the bad news to their members, thereby incurring the immediate reaction and initial obloquy.
No doubt there will be a protest march, perhaps on Saturday week in Dublin (I’m guessing.) Serried ranks will demonstrate against the Government for bearing down on working people while letting the Fat Cats off the hook.
Others will argue that the Fat Cats are on a pretty lean diet at the moment and many of them are up to their necks in debt with little chance of paying it off. But public opinion wants to see someone suffer at the top and feels that too many sleek manipulators are dancing away from the disasters they brought about, toting sackfuls of dosh for their pensions.
The sight of a severed head dripping blood on the scaffold (I speak metaphorically of course) would have a cathartic effect. It was the American baseball legend Yogi Berra who said predictions were very hard to make, “especially about the future”, but there is a lot of anger out there and the danger of Greek-style disorder is quite real. In the US they appoint special prosecutors to investigate those who are accused of acting against the public interest: why not here?
No doubt Cowen did not expect his tenure as Taoiseach to go along these lines. Presumably he expected occasional difficulties, the normal ups and downs of political office but not the biggest financial crisis for 70 years. Nobody told him there’d be days like these: strange days indeed. But as Yogi Berra also said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”