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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 9, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    Cullen – more stumbling through valleys than scaling high mountains?

    Harry McGee

    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.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      He was about to get the chop as one too many arrogant, deaf, and dim-witted liabilities that the government could do without. He chose to jump. The health issue is a parachute for his oversized ego. His was a unique charisma deficit in a government stuffed with arrogant non-communicators.

      Recognising his shortcomings could indicate there might be some possibility of leadership emerging. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

    • robespierre says:

      I think a key attribute of Cullen was his brass neck. Somebody more circumspect and aware of themself may have crumbled under the pressure but he often looked to me like inside his head he heard music playing. He also never struck me as somebody who wanted to achieve anything other than power. He had no commanding vision and has left no positive legacy.

      He is not as bad as some people will claim he was (although he was certainly hapless) but few will really be able to point to his achievements. Transport 21 is a repackaging of previously planned capital works. It was not his Vision, that was kicked off by Seamus Brennan.

      If he had been a little more aware, he would have dropped e-voting and Dempsey would have been blamed. The way he kept arguing in its favour damaged him politically. He also allowed the councils to run up huge debts especially in the cities and showed little interest in overhauling the civic infrastructure that is disintegrating in the ground.

    • El Leader Maximo says:

      He’s the perfect encapsulation of the last decade and FF’s lack of vision throughout it all – smug, incompetent, visionless, no ideas, power for power’s sake, gombeenism, parish pump politics, spoofer, brass neck, passive aggressive response to any form of criticism, money squandered, retires on a pension 3 or 4 times the average wage.

      It’s all good in Biffostan.

    • enda says:

      Good riddance to him and all the other “fighters” like him.

    • Good at fighting for himself, not so good at fighting on behalf of others.

    • Fergal says:

      For what it’s worth, he didn’t hire Monica Leech on a ‘very high fee scale’ but at a daily rate that would be below the average rate for a PR person from any of the main Dublin firms.

    • Fergal, I think I’m right in saying (and I’m open to correction if someone can find info on this) that this was the first contract of that size that her firm had gotten at that rate of (€800 to 1200 per day I think it was). So other firms based in Dublin might have been more expensive but her firm was less experienced at this level of operation and it would appear didn’t have as extensive a track record other than work for the OPW while Martin Cullen was there.

    • robespierre says:

      Good point Dan. I spend a lot (too much) time tendering for work in accordance with EU Public Procurement rules.

      Even to join a restricted panel from which a Department could in theory spend with greater ease on consultancy than creating an industry out of procurement would have been very difficult.

      For her firm, at that point in time, to have been appointed following a free and fair open tendering process would have been extraordianry. Cost rarely makes up more than 40% of the marks for rating a tender (25% more likely). So while persuasive it is the meeting of the quality criteria including experience, people, capability etc. that determine who wins these processes (in theory).

    • barbera says:

      Or, instead of ending on a pessimistic note, you could see the future in glass-half-full perspective Harry; agus na bí ag féachaint ar an Dark Side!

      Like — This Coalition Government has weathered the roughest, most unprecedented global financial storm/crisis since the Great Depression and the tidal wave of events that brought that about. All clean decks now and steady as she goes; SS Hibernia’s on a steady course and heading into calm seas. Stop with the moaning and negative criticism of a Leadership that is obviously working. If anyone thinks a change of Government will improve the situation then let that person vote accordingly at the next election — which imho would be a waste of time, money and resources to have earlier than the due date — not to mention undo the great work that has been done re establishing confidence in Ireland at EU and International levels. Time we got behind this Government and encouraged them by offering positive proposals and if we find there to be positive reciprocation then this Coalition could well have a very bright future.

    • Who are all these brave people afraid to post under their own names?

    • 'QC' says:

      @10 They are the ‘wits’ the ‘satirists’ the less ordinary…think Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen or Brian O’Nolan to name but three..! An established and respected practice in the best Irish tradition at least if you are familiar with the Irish literati…watch and learn, or copy if you don’t have the talent yourself!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Heard Harry on the radio and the comment (from whom I don’t know) that the more the media had a go at Cullen the more local Waterford media defended him. You can apply that to pretty much every part of the country.

      Although I think even the thickest person in Donegal can understand that Coughlan is in a league of her own when it comes to incompetence and stupidity.

      The scale of the mindset change required to make Irish people link who they vote for and consequences when they vote for the likes of Cullen or O’Dea or O’Donoghue or Flynn or Callely or Ahern or Lenihan or Hanafin and all the others to the state the country is – is absolutely massive.

      The evidence so far is that we are still utterly refusing to face up to the fact the Church gets away with the abuse as we let it, ditto for the politicians.

      We try to blame the EU or Lehmanns or Rome but the fault lies within and among us.

      Is there no benefactor who would pay a PhD student or a proper academic to do a study as to where this attitude to authority and inability to face up to consequences stems from.

      I personally, think Fianna Fáil is merely the latest ‘power figure’ through whom the Irish people inflict such failure on themselves and set such low expectation and standards which we then still fail to rise to.

      There was the Gaelic system based on whoever was the strongest, giving out the largesse he had stolen from the very people he was giving it back to. Sending them off grateful for what they got and too thick to understand they were just getting back what was theirs anyway.

      Then they were replaced by the Normans – same idea.

      Then the Ascendency – except with the twist that by pulling a ‘stroke’ you were getting one up on them – only of course you weren’t.

      Then to O’Connell and then Parnell and then Cullen and then the Catholic Church with a mix of politics.

      So I don’t buy the argument that 800 years of oppression created the crony mindset – it might have stunted any reform of it but it didn’t create it – we were that way long before the Brits stood foot on Irish soil and until we face that hard truth – Is there any hope that we can alter a national mindset that ruins the country at least once every generation.

    • algernon barbera says:

      @10
      So you are saying it requires “courage” to post a comment using not a fictitious name — why? And how can anyone be sure that “Jason O’Mahony” is not “Bunburying”– whether he be a country Jack or a city Ernest? Using an alias does not take away from the importance of being earnest, surely.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Why is Harney’s husband with her?

      Did the other officials with her bring a partner?

      Why hasn’t the itinerary been published to show exactly how her time is being spent and where she is staying and what flights she is taking. She is Minister for Health of a small country on the edge of Europe so keeping such details secret can’t be due to security risks.

      I hope some Irish person living in New Zeland puts a custard pie in her face.

      She should be sacked/resign and then those further down the chain should be held to account – it’s the very mentality that she uses to defend her inaction that is such a part of the problem. She was made aware of this issue last year and it never crossed her mind to ask probing questions or even worse to follow up on what the outcome was.

      What can she possibly know about the health service given she has never had a proper job in her entire life – she has fed off the taxpayer since she was appointed to the Seanad.

      Then we hear a young vulnerable boy is left to wander the streets all night.

      What exactly has to happen before there is any reaction from the Irish public to force change in the country?

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      And …. will Alan Dukes be giving up his Oireachtas pension while he is also getting another income via Anglo …

    • Nemesis says:

      @13 You wouldn’t know whether she should be pitied or laughed at…Snigger!

    • PRICHARDS says:

      ITS THE CONTENT OF THE COMMENT THAT MATTERS, NOT THE SCRIBE.

    • Deaglán says:

      13, 16 and 17 one and the same scribe?

    • barbera says:

      I think you’ve made a mistake there Deaglán
      Post at 13 = barbera with algernon prefix — no link whatsoever to the sniggering Nemesis. Check the e-mail address — not that any of it is important.


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