Cullen – more stumbling through valleys than scaling high mountains?
Martin Cullen quoted Woodrow Wilson when announcing his resignation last nigh (Richard Nixon also liked the phrase and possibly made it more famous): “Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
Of course, the reference was to the flak he has taken for a host of controversies during his career: the e-voting debacle, the hiring of Monica Leech as an adviser on a very high fee scale, the horrible unfounded personal allegations made about himself and Leech.
Few politicians in Leinster House divide opinions like Cullen . And everytime his name crops up, so does a flurry of spleen and invective (I’m putting on my seat-belt before the comments start arriving).
At the same time, you have to have a gruding admiration for Cullen. No other minister has come under such sustained fire over the years. ~But he has met it all face-on. As he said in his statement last night, he is a fighter, and a doughty one at that. He has survived all the reshuffles where we all said he was a goner. He has somehow got through all the controversies and inquiries. Unlike Willie O’Dea, he knew that he had to take some things on the chin, pick himself up, dust himself off, and get on with it.
And, yes, while e-voting was a fiasco, there were a number of things he did well during his career. On recycling and pay-per-weight when he was Minister for the Environment. He was a good Minister for Transport (but it would have been hard not to have been during the boom years) though he was over-fixated with car-users rather than other forms of public tranpsort.
Despite an element of snobbery on his appointment, he was also a competent Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism and responded strongly to the recommendaiton by Colm McCarthy’s Bord Snip for the Department to be culled. – indeed the strong message about Ireland’s cultural strenghts that emerged out of the Farmleigh love-in last autumn was a triumph for him; copperfastening the argument that his Department needed to survive.
He was also a first-class spoofer, able to talk unflappably, at length, with a bit of plausibility, and no substance.
That’s one the reasons he was wheeled out so regularly for TV debates.
My own impression is that the controversies and the mistakes will outrank the achievements.
When he came out to meet the huddle of reporters last night on the plinth, he was asked had his going early ensured that in a sense he dodged the bullet that was coming in the reshuffle early. He said that he had made his intentions clear to the Taoiseach in January, that the writing was on the wall, that he had to step down at the time of the reshuffle.
In a sense, it’s a terrible blow for him. His current condition stems from a reoccurrence of injuries suffered in a car crash many years ago. The condition is serious and deteriorating, so much so that he had to take the wrenching decision to give up his Dáil seat.
Until now, I have been one of those who has been saying that the Government will survive until 2012. Now I’m suddenly not so sure. The last Dail from 2002 to 2007 was almost static – only two TDs stood down. They were Charlie McCreevy and John Bruton, both departing for jobs in Europe. This time around there will be five byelections within three years. There are also doubts about the health of some deputies.
The solid belts-and-braces majority assembled by Bertie Ahern now looks increasingly precarious.