‘He Who Is Not With Us Is McGuinness’
Deaglán de Bréadún
So are we in for a period of dissent in Fianna Fáil that will be reminiscent of the Haughey era? John McGuinness is certainly not taking his dismissal as a junior minister lying down. But could he seriously undermine Cowen’s leadership?
Mary Coughlan and John McGuinness in happier times, with still-in-situ Minister of State Michael Finneran on left (photograph by Eric Luke)
McGuinness is probably making a mistake by going on about his poor relationship with his senior minister Mary Coughlan. People will be inclined to put that down to a personality clash – “They just didn’t get on” – rather than a deep philosophical difference over the future of the country.
His criticisms of Cowen are less blunt but perhaps more damaging in the long run. He hints that the Taoiseach is somehow tribal, trapped in a partisan mindset, out of touch with the ordinary people, and that he is putting party before country (how de Valera would have hated that accusation!)
There was bound to be some grumbling when seven ministers of state got the chop. Jimmy Devins in Sligo is at it as well. McGuinness was probably heading for a fall from the time of his comments to the Sunday Independent about public sector reform. It was out of tune with the social partnership culture that prevails at government level. But don’t be surprised if the former junior minister gets another splash in the same paper tomorrow.
How many divisions has the Pope? That was Stalin’s famous question and could be applied to John McGuinness as well. Does he have any support? The next few days or so will tell a tale: watch out for FF backbenchers making dissident noises. You may not need earplugs to deaden the noise.
But there is plenty for these TDs to be upset about. The new puritanism means their sources of political income are being targetted. There are rows about the selection of candidates for the council elections. The party looks like taking a hammering on June 5th in the “locals and Europeans”. A new opinion poll in tomorrow’s Sunday Business Post may not help their mood either.
But do they really want to present themselves to a vengeful electorate at this time? One imagines they would prefer to wait until the climate improves – if it ever improves. But whether they want to go to the country under the leadership of Brian Cowen or go through the turmoil of a leadership heave and replace him with someone who might be more popular with the punters … that’s the $64,000 question.
Here are the main points from McGuinness’s interview with Pat Kenny on last night’s Late Late Show:-
Asked if he was a “troublesome priest” in government, the former junior minister replied that he had been “a troublesome person, troublesome in the Department because of my strong views and my business opinions”.
Asked if he believed there were people in the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment who “hadn’t a clue about the real world” he said that senior staff in this and other departments “are out of touch, they need to listen more to business”.
Did he have full confidence in Mary Coughlan as Minister for Enterprise? “I don’t believe that she’s in the right position. I believe she was good in Agriculture, it’s not a personal comment on her but you need to be equipped differently now, you need a far more radical approach.”
Having worked closely with the Minister, what mistakes and incapacities had he observed? “There is a need for a greater understanding of business, of the challenges of business, the need to reach out to business and there is a need for a different approach in terms of how you form policy and fulfil it and unfortunately, in my opinion, that’s not existent within the Department either on the political leadership side or indeed within the bureaucracy.”
Had there been a “set-to” between himself and the Minister? “You can have many a set-to with Mary, it’s very easy to happen. She’s very personable of course but in the interests of change there is always going to be that conflict between strong personalities and I’ve got a strong view of where we need to go in this country.”
Asked if he had told her to her face that he did not have full confidence in her ability to do the job at this time he replied: “Yes.” Asked to describe her reaction he said: “We had a strong exchange of views.”
Mr McGuinness said action should have been taken earlier to prevent the loss of jobs at Dell’s computer plant in Limerick.
Was he suggesting “a paralysis within government”? “There is, to a degree as we are faced with such global difficulties in terms of how we perform.”
According to Mr McGuinness, “We have to get back to the core values of Fianna Fail, a party which I have represented almost all of my life, first elected in 1979.”
Asked what the backbenchers in the party were saying about the leadership, he answered: “There is a lot of discontent in the party at the moment.” There was unhappiness in the organisation over the way headquarters was selecting local election candidates, and elected representatives were “not being listened to” at leadership level. There was a “disconnect” between the parliamentary party and the leadership.
Did he have full confidence in Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s ability to deal with the economic crisis? “I have confidence that Brian has the ability, he’s a decent family man that understands the normal troubles of people’s lives but he needs to shift his mindset from being the leader of Fianna Fáil to having a clear understanding that he is now the leader of the country. We need to put the country first.
“I’m here with you because I want to put the country first. I believe we need to look at everything in a very new and radical dynamic way and I think that if Brian grasps that and goes back to the soul and the core values of Fianna Fáil that we will lead ourselves out of this.”
And if Mr Cowen failed to do that, what would happen to him? “If not, he risks losing the confidence of the party. He risks above all losing our place as an economy within this global market.
Denying that he was washing “dirty linen” in public he said: “We have reached a point where it should be respect more than loyalty.” Asked what his main message was for Brian Cowen he said it was “to listen more, to listen to the parliamentary party”.