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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 23, 2009 @ 11:20 am

    Taking Stock: Junior Ministers, Lisbon and the ‘Locals’

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Whereas Dara Calleary and Áine Brady were delighted recipients of general congratulations in Leinster House last evening, I saw no sign of the 13 who were re-appointed as junior ministers; the seven whose services were dispensed were not in evidence either.


    Dara Calleary, Brian Cowen and Áine Brady – and is that Our Trevor in the background? (Photograph: Eric Luke)

    One of the the messages coming through in the mini-reshuffle was that loyalty is still highly-valued in Fianna Fáil. Competence, or the lack of it, was also a factor in some cases. But the whole thing was a three-day wonder and, although there is usually some political benefit when a Government changes its people around, this was overshadowed by the publicity over the generous severance payments to the dispossessed. That’s the smidgeon of information that will stay in people’s minds when they go to the ballot-box on June 5th.

    There are no prizes for predicting that FF will be hammered in the local and European elections. But how bad will it be? If it’s a total massacre then we could be in general election territory, especially if frightened backbenchers start talking out of the side – or even the front – of their mouths, seeking to distance themselves from the regime. If it’s not a total wipe-out, then FF-types will be quietly putting it about that, “We’ll be all right in the General (Election).”

    The signs are that the by-elections in Dublin Central and Dublin South will be postponed. A wise move from the Government’s point of view. By-election defeats are much more serious than the loss of council or even European seats. Up to yesterday, I would have said that Bertie Ahern might be able to swing Dublin Central for the Government, were he so inclined. But the dismissal of his brother Noel has given me pause for thought on that score. I have no idea if Bertie and Noel are close, but blood is still thicker than water.

    The decision of Seán Ó Neachtain to step down as FF euro-candidate in Ireland North-West poses a serious dilemma. Quite apart from his health issues, he was facing an uphill struggle to retain his seat in the current climate. There is speculation about Michael Kitt and Síle de Valera running instead but some say the most likely scenario is that a Galway hurler will emerge to take a shot at goal. We shall see. Meanwhile, Leitrim’s Paschal Mooney, last man standing for the Soldiers of Destiny, must be over the moon.

    The shilly-shallying over pay-cuts for serving politicians has been very damaging. The Government would have been better advised to draw a line in the sand on the increments on the basis that TDs are tied to to a particular civil service grade and the money didn’t amount to very much anyway. There is a big gravy-train factor in Irish politics but this was hardly the most egregious example of it.

    The big issue now is Lisbon. Will it get through? Up to a very short time ago, I would have said Yes. Now I’m not so sure. The closure of the Forum sent out a bad signal from the Yes side’s point of view. It is said that the public meetings organised by the Forum around the country were largely taken over by the No side. But there was nothing to stop the Yes-people coming along to make their point. The fundamental problem is the lack of commitment to any kind of European ideal on the part of many of our political leaders. Traditionally, Europe was a source of funding and the whole notion of ending war and promoting peace and amity among nations never had much traction here. To quote James Joyce, “It seems history is to blame.”

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      An Independent journalist made a very good point on Vincent Browne last night – how come, when the government makes massive taxation changes etc that affect everyone, that is fine but when they cut something affecting politicians it’s all “legal issues, taking advice, etc.” How come these legal issues don’t arise for Joe Public? Also, doesn’t the Oireachtas make the law? Wouldn’t it be quite easy for them to change it to affect politicians’ contracts (as they have done for contractors – sanctity of contract bedamned).

      Re reshuffle – Cowen missed a golden opportunity to do a surprise mini-reshuffle of the main cabinet. In fact there is only one minister crying out for a shuffle (Coughlan) and by replacing her he could have gained some positive press I think.

    • Dan Sullivan says:


      I have a legal and practical solution to the problem of how to eliminate the long service increments for TD if anyone is interested.

      You reduce the salary of all TDs salaries (I know this requires breaking the link with the civil servants but that’s hardly illegal) by twice the amount of the existing maximum increment and then introduce a new measure called “I’ve not yet gotten to the long service increment” which applies to only those TDs who have less than the level of service necessary to get the long service increment which is of the same amount as the long service increment.

      The end result is all TDs are the same salary. Basically, it eliminates the effect of the increment by means of reducing a TDs base salary but giving a different increment to only those without long service.

      And Robert is a member of your family on either your mother or father’s side of the male gender, or Bob’s you’re uncle whichever you prefer.

      Of course, I’m not opposed to reducing TD’s salaries by even more but the focus on this idea is simply to eliminate the effect of the long service increment. And it’s legal and doable, but we all know it won’t be done because it wasn’t legal problems that stopped it being done in the first place

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Deck chairs and Titanic come to mind in relation to the latest bunch of FF apparatchiks chosen.

      Pink-faced, red-necked, chips off the old neo-liberal block to a man and woman, they don’t even know that they only know one economic mantra: the one that got us into this mess. Dev would be ashamed of them.

      As for Dan Boyle’s Jesuitical contortions – wouldn’t it be cheaper to declare the lot of them redundant and ask them to re-apply to the electorate for reselection at a new fixed salary scale?

      Here is my prediction: Brian Cowen will be the last Fianna Fáil taoiseach in Irish history.

    • Kynos says:

      Well. The last Fianna Fail Taoiseach in this incarnation of Fianna Fail anyway, BetterworldNow. Doubtless we’ll need some new form of them to help clean up after whatever comes next and its successors have been in power for 20 years.

    • Kynos says:

      I’d like to see some cast-iron guarantees that Lisbon, in its exegesis as a War Charter, will neither involve Ireland nor any member state in wars of opportunity aggression or rapine. I’d like to see them be-fanged with failsafes that include eternal imprisonment for those who misuse EU military power. I’d like to see legal determination as to the integrity and comprehensiveness of such guarantees and failsafes. Not saying even then I’d support this tapestry of sovereign abdication and untold risk to national and international concepts of self-determination and indefeasible destinies. I still think that the entire thing is essentially a recipe for a NEU Model Army and quite possibly a Roman or Carthaginian military SuperState. Butting up against falling and rising military SuperStates of other kinds on all sides. Delenda Est Carthago! Not for the first time.

    • Kynos says:

      (Just as well for the Yes side I’ve no vote in Lison. Hard to say if should be giving opinions at all considering. Perhaps not come to think of it. Don’t publish that last if you think not. Apologies for volte face. It’s really only those with votes whose opinions count in this.)

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Sincere apologies for mixing up my Dans. I was of course referring to the noble descendant of one-eyed one, Sullivan.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Betterworld, you won’t find me arguing against the idea of a general election. But my intention in this case was merely to demonstrate that it is legal and possible to eliminate the effect of the pay increment right now despite what the government has said. As for Jesuitical contortions, you give me the boy at seven and I’ll have him clearing out the cowshed by a quarter past.

    • Peter B says:

      Had to look twice there – thought Mr Bean popped into the picture!

    • Deaglán says:

      I see John McGuinness has been making some remarks of a mildly-dissenting nature and has missed a couple of Dail votes. But not much for the Government to worry about there, I would say.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Dan, If it is possible to nationalise a private bank in the dead of night over a weekend, it is possible to withdraw a TD’s perk today by lunchtime. What are our TDs going to do? Go on strike? Takes us to the High Court?

      “Those are not great options, Eamonn.”

      The beneficiaries of these living-pensions are all getting on in years, some are not so steady on their feet any more.

      If there was any real intention of withdrawing these allowances, they’d pull a stroke by illegally cancelling them and, when the TDs affected screamed loudly enough, announce that they would set up a public enquiry to examine if any member of the government acted illegally. Then they’d appeal the terms of reference to the High Court on the first day of public sittings. In two or three general elections time there’d be a report running to several volumes finding a systemic failure and the DPP could announce that no one still alive would be worth pursuing with criminal charges.

      Is that not precisely how the current criminal conspiracy operates when their backers get caught selling dodgy beef or apartments to unsuspecting suckers using a state guarantee?

      Where there is a will there is a way.

      We just need a profoundly different expression of the will of the people sitting in the Dáil – an equally ruthless one, not the tweedle-dumber version, but this time acting at the behest of the ordinary citizen, not the golden circle.

      As with all paradigm shifts, the longer the old guard tries to hang on to control, the harder is the transition and the more catastrophic is the upheaval required to wrest power from their claws. Given its vacuous leadership and talentless generals, my guess is that the FF collapse will be rapid, unexpected and precipitated by a relatively minor issue.

      A direct assault on their authority will not be necessary, but remains under active consideration.

    • John says:

      We don’t need junior ministers, it was just jobs for the boys as the gravy-train was overflowing at the brim. The creation of the extra ministers last year was only a ploy to appear to be chopping them at this time – to be seen to be doing something – FF jokers.

      Also, we don’t need the Seanad.

      If the UK were to use the same ratio of MP to per head of population as we have here they would have almost an additional 2,000 MPs. So the signal here is also clear, we have too many TDs representing very few people.

      Get rid of unwanted TDs

      Some years ago we had only 144 TDs and with the move to 166 I fear gross ignorance still prevails. look at the mess they have created.

      Chop the number of TDs and for those that remain let’s try and get a week’s work out of them for 46 weeks of the year. The economy is up the creek and they continue to take their long holidays. Get with the programme and wake up and smell the coffee !

    • Brian Boru says:

      I have to question this thesis that is doing the rounds in the press that somehow the crisis will result in a General Election. For that to happen, Cowen has to lose his Dail majority, and the President has to call one. The President is only constitutionally-bound to call a GE if the Taoiseach commands the support of a Dail majority. Were the Greens and a few FF backbenchers to withdraw that support, it is difficult to see Cowen going to her to call a GE, knowing full well that FF would be decimated were one called in the short to medium-term. Likewise, the Greens have similar reasons for opposing it. On the other hand, Enda Kenny wants a GE in order to become the largest Dail party, or at least to get the strongest FG parliamentary party since 1987, which would immeasurably strengthen his hold on the leadership of the party. But again I come back to the Constitution, which only obliges the President to call a GE if the sitting Taoiseach commands the support of a Dail majority. In that context, I regard the following as a more plausible outcome: Neither Cowen nor the Greens will not seek a GE as polls stand (and I can’t see them changing for them while we are in recession). But the Greens may seek to jump ship in the hope of doing penance in the purgatory of the Rainbow, and being in a position to stave off disaster in a subsequent GE by holding onto Rainbow transfers upon which Gormley and Cuffe’s seats depend. So how will the Greens reconcile these competing objectives? In my opinion they will either wait out the recession in the hope of a government recovery, or else cross the floor like Labour in 1994 but on the condition that Kenny will not ask the President to consent to a General Election. It should be remembered that without the 2 by-elections going ahead, the Opposition could still form a government-majority if it included FG-Labour-Greens-SF-Lowry-McGrath.

      The refusal of the govt to move the writ for the 2 by-elections is an absolute outrage at this stage – especially given it will have been over a year since the seat became vacant. We need a constitutional amendment to force govts to call by-elections at the very least at the next nationwide elections (including local and euro elections). In my opinion, the constitutionality of this failure is open to question, given the provisions of Bunreacht na hEireann with respect to the entitlement of constituencies to representation in Dail Eireann, as well as the Constitution’s guarantee of ‘equal treatment before the law’ – which remember was the basis of the Coughlan judgement on equal airtime during constitutional referenda.

      I am still voting no to Lisbon as long as the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not subject to an Irish opt-out like the UK and Poland have. I am totally opposed to allowing the ECJ an even greater say in our affairs with respect to asylum and immigration and other issues.

    • Peter B says:

      Good to hear one member of FF, John McGuinness, speaking the truth – apparently such outrageous carry-on is not welcome in the FF party.

      And imagine suggesting that Mary Coughlan is incompetent! What a revelation! A politician who states the obvious, clearly and without ambiguity, what a pleasant surprise.

      Coughlan’s own constituency was an unemployment blackspot throughout the entire period of the Celtic Tiger and now she has been empowered to solve the enterprise and unemployment problems of an entire country in recession!

      McGuinness’s assertion that her previous brief, Agriculture, was more suited to her – he was quite correct. Agriculture is a stagnant, defunct department – perfectly suited to someone of Coughlan’s ability level.

    • Brian Boru says:

      “Neither Cowen nor the Greens will not seek a GE as polls stand (and I can’t see them changing for them while we are in recession).”

      I meant to type “now” rather than “not” above.

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