The Gospel According to John
Deaglán de Bréadún
In politics you have to expect the unexpected. Who would have thought that, in getting sacked as Minister of State for Trade and Commerce, John McGuinness would have become a focus of public discontent with the current state of things.
When John and Mary saw eye-to-eye;
Michael Finneran on left (Photograph
by Eric Luke)
Already Fianna Fáil are sending out signals to him that, if he calms down and keeps his mouth shut, there might be something the goody-bag for him in the future. But in the meantime, he is causing a bit of a stir and his absence from the vote on the Christmas Social Welfare bonus last Thursday where the Government only scraped through, 70-67, must have sent chills down some very important spines.
Tánaiste Mary Coughlan strongly disputes John McGuinness’s contention that he told her he had no confidence in her ability to carry out the job of Minister for Enterprise and Employment. Her office issued a statement to that effect last Saturday which was published in the newspapers. McGuinness responded last night with details of the alleged conversation.
But he went on to deal with other issues as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t room for that part of the statement in our print edition so I am publishing it here now. A businessman himself, he reflects the views of the small and medium enterprise sector to a considerable extent and evinces considerable irritation with the unions and the civil service. It’s certainly not a perspective everyone would share, but interesting in its way. Since it’s not every day that a Fianna Fáil minister of state breaks ranks, it’s worth reading. He is clearly speaking from the heart when he says, “I am only sorry that I did not have the time, as a minister, to kick a larger hole in the wall of incompetence, waste, inefficiency and lack of professionalism that confronted me at both political and bureaucratic levels within my department.” Here is the statement in full:-
As a result of media and political comment arising out of my appearance on the Late Late Show, I want to clarify my position and reply to some criticisms.
Mary Coughlan has said that I did not tell her that I had no confidence in her as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, something which, in any case, must have been obvious from our frequent clashes over policy matters, which are known to both the civil service and the press. She is not correct.
I told Mary Coughlan after a meeting in the Department which began at 8.00 pm on 11th March 2009, that I had “no confidence in her ability”. I used those words, spoke them clearly and remember them well, because I was determined at that time to lay my cards on the table.
It is possible that the Minister may not have heard me, given that she has heard nothing, and acted on nothing, that business leaders in this country have been telling her, since her appointment.
It is untrue that what I am saying is sour grapes. I have been a politician for forty years. Triumph, disaster and disappointments come with the job. I am familiar with all of them. It is true that I do not believe that Brian Cowen was right when he did not re-appoint me, but I also accept without qualification that it was his right. Any politician who speaks out against ministers, public service incompetence and trade union intransigence knows that, sooner or later, he will be dealt with. I knew it, but I have been speaking out about this for over ten years and I did not accept my promotion on the basis that I would stop.
I am only sorry that I did not have the time, as a minister, to kick a larger hole in the wall of incompetence, waste, inefficiency and lack of professionalism that confronted me at both political and bureaucratic levels within my department. I believe that anyone with a knowledge of administration and management and respect for himself would have done the same.
Some have said that I have proposed no solutions. The solving of a problem begins with its identification and then its elimination. The question I have been asking is how do we eliminate the lack of professionalism, and a culture that mangles the individual and forces their abilities, potential and aspirations into a sausage machine, whose existence is maintained by powerful trade unions. Many of the leaders of these trade unions are enjoying the fruits of a social partnership which was set up to prevent labour unrest at a time of boom and which is now a huge burden on the country at a time of bust.
It is essential for the public to understand that ministers rely heavily on the civil service for briefings and ideas. Some ministers rely far too much and have no political agenda of their own. The advice they are getting is coming from a civil service where too many positions at higher level are filled by people whose turn it was; people with no experience of the real world; people with no experience of administration or management; people who have “think ins” in Druid’s Glen at taxpayers’ expense; people who run a mile from change and move mountains, and junior ministers to prevent it happening. We are not talking about Ken Whitakers here.
Contrary to the belief in some quarters, I do not like doing this. I have no desire to be a target or a troublesome politician. I simply want to get on with using my abilities to deliver for the country and for the people who elected me. But I have a duty to those people, a duty to my country and a duty to myself. Billions of taxpayers’ money has ended up in black holes without anyone being held to account, while the old, the marginalised in our society and now the unemployed need help, and our schools and hospitals need investment. I will not stand for that.
I was born into Fianna Fáil. Despite its present travails, it is a party I believe in. It has core values which it can be proud of. We have made mistakes but we have also made a huge contribution.
But perhaps now we need to understand that the country is far more important than the tribe and circling the wagons every time we come under attack in not an option.
Fianna Fáil is bigger and better than that and in Brian Cowen we have a leader who is bigger and better than that: a leader that must now use all of his abilities to rally this country, so that we can face and overcome the challenges that this extraordinary economic downturn has created.