There may be trouble ahead
Over the past couple of years, I have done the Overlook Hotel metaphor to death when describing Leinster House during the summer months. (For those who are not film buffs, it’s the hotel to which Jack Nicholson takes his family in Stanley Kubrick’s film on Stephen King’s novel The Shining).
Not this summer. Relatively speaking (compared to other years) it’s been like Heuston Station. There were no committees, no Seanad, no Dail and no Government meetings during August. But there were daily sightings of the lesser spotted backbench TD in the vicinty of the centre of power.
And this week, politics is back in action. The Cabinet meets tomorrow. Though neither subject is formally on the agenda, I would be very surprised if the meeting is not dominated by NAMA and by the Commission on Taxation report.
The Dáil is being recalled early to begin the debate on NAMA on 16 September. Already both opposition parties have signalled they will oppose this? In my own opinion, NAMA is the only ship we can sail. Our problem is the captain and his crew. They were the guys who were on watch when it holed beneath the surface.
The whole NAMA debate needs to be approached in two ways. If you apply Dr Spock logic to it, it is the most thought-through solution on the table at present. Sure, it’s a punt into the unknown. But so is every fiscal and monetary and emergency policy being pursued by every government (with the exception of the Scandanavians).
But then emotionally, it’s fraught with political difficulties. Brian Cowen and his Fianna Fail colleagues carry the political equivalent of original sin. The public does not like (actively detests, in fact) the idea of the banks being bailed out by us, the taxpayer. Some think that this public largesse will extend to those greedy money-grabbers, the developers. See my face turning a hue of blue! It won’t. It won’t. It won’t.
The Fine Gael plan is for a good bank and a bad bank. Labour wants temporary nationalisation. In some senses, they are just other ways of describing (or not enormous variations of) the Government’s plans. Brian Lenihan has accepted that nationalisation may be required but has characterised it more in the the last resort mode. Some people might portray their opposition to NAMA as opportunistic and cynical: whatever, it dovetails with the public mood.
The paradox is this: NAMA may be the right solution but nobody likes it.
How much are we to blame? More than we care to admit. In the run-up to the 2007 election, any politician who called for increased taxes or who warned about property prices reaching unsustainable levels was also declaring the end of their career in politics. The public didn’t want to hear from any Cassandras. And no political party was strong enough to stand up to that collective delusion. And for being the weakest in that regard, and also being the ones in power, Fianna Fail has deservedly taken the brunt of the blame. That’s politics. But in the real world, we should all be shouldering at least a little of the blame.
I’ve gone on about that before as well. So, I’ll finish by turning to this morning’s main question, the prospects of the Government surviving.
The Greens pride themselves for doing things differently. But holding a meeting on NAMA in September and then again in October strikes me as bizarre, and prone to pitfalls and uncertainty.
The Greens will buy into NAMA in exchange for a new agreement on the Programme for Government. And if they are clever about it the price the party will extract will be a massive chunk of the new deal. The nice and oh-so polite and sincere party that wrung some concessions from Fianna Fail in 2007 is a hungrier and more desperate beast now, especially given the wipe-out of the local elections.
It will expect major Green policies and philosophies to be recognised in return for ‘no matter what’ support.
If that is agreed, the Government will survive into 2010. Through the awful autumn and through the worst winter with the toughest Budget in the State’s history. That’s not saying an election will not take place in 2010. What it is saying is that if it does take place, it will be at the tail-end of the year.