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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 29, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    Cowen will remain as Taoiseach…

    Harry McGee

    … because all his rivals know they will meet a similar fate if they take over.

    Unless Fianna Fail can do something similar in the next 12 months with the loaf of stale bread and the five rotting fishes that a fellow did 2,000 years ago, they are goners.

    Damage limitation is the name of the game. Three terms for FF was one term too many. By rights, the scandal over Bertie Ahern’s finances should have brought the Government down in 2007. But Fine Gael (and Enda Kenny) were too weak then to gain people’s trust that the party could be trusted with the economy.

    There’s no percentage in it for Mícheál Martin or Dermot Ahern or Mary Hanafin. They take over Fianna Fail and lead the party to an inevitable defeat in the next election. One that will make Fine Gael’s performance in 2002 look, to use Tiger Woods’s favourite adjective, HUGE.

    The only member of the Cabinet who is really untainted is Brian Lenihan who only became a full Minister in 2007 after being ignored by Ahern for years. However, his battle with illness make a leadership run unrealistic at this moment in time.

    Cowen is a bit of an enigma. His public image and his communications skills are terrible (so much for the star debater). There is a game called BS Bingo that tracks the use of moronic business jargon in speeches. Cowen gets a full house everytime. Those who work closely with him say that he’s hands on; that he’s fully engaged with all issues, and is across every brief.

    For all we know he could be performing miracles in the background as his aides claime. But nothing of that comes across, except for the once-a-year rousing speech to a chamber of commerce somewhere.

    What comes across is caution, conservatism, indecisiveness, and wavering. His reshuffle last week was proof postive of that. But at the same time, if you were cynical about it, with everybody he might have dropped, he would have created a new enemy. His most bitter rivals now within his parliamentary party are junior ministers who were dropped.

    Still, the larger criticism remains.

    We’ve had three reports now on the Smart Economy, all of which have been launched with much fanfare. So where’s the job strategy moving from here? You can’t get it just from renaming bits of departments into ‘innovation’ and ‘skills’. We need a coherent, spelled out, this-is-how-we-are-going-to-do-it jobs plans. And he needs to show that he is moving and shifting on it. NOW.

    Everything Fianna Fail and the PDs stood for during the boom years has been discredited. It might have been a tiger economy for a couple of years, when exports were high. But for a decade it was a bubble economy, with cheap money, and cheap credit, and ‘light touch’ regulation fanning the flames.

    We saw the same two traits and failures take hold among bankers that felled the Wall Street banks: irrational exeuberance and moral hazard, where the bigger your loan book, the bigger you bonus was.

    That irrational exuberance gripped us all.  We all became junkies. The Government and the banks were the dope peddlers. The big developers parading around in their private jets with the vulgar lifestyle provided the role models. And yes, the media bought it into it too – big time. Though we didn’t describe it as greed gone to lunatic levels. We had a a more polite term for it… aspirational.

    The strange thing is. The fiscal solution so far has been the best of a bad lot. It’s the right solution. But you can’t ignore the paradox that the surgeon that is carrying out the necessary and painful surgery looks exactly like the guy who inflicted the injury on you that necessitated the operation.

    Or as Justin McCarthy, the political editor of Today FM, nicely put it several months ago.  It’s like returning home to fine your TV robbed. A couple of minutes later there’s a knock on the door. There’s a guy selling you a TV  that looks suspiciously like the one that’s been nicked. You stump up the money. Even though you don’t like it, you don’t have a choice. You need a TV.

    It’s caused a huge amount of anger among public sector employees. Their argument is that they didn’t cause the crisis. That is true. Another argument is that there is a fair proportion of workers in the private sector who didn’t have to take pay cuts. That is also true. And their sense of grievance is heightened by the fact that a small elite group at the top had their cuts reversed because a ‘bonus’ they got every year was a reward for showing up to work each day.

    The cutbacks, through pension contributons and pay, have caused pain. I believe it was necessary. It would be impossible to target those who hadn’t received cuts in the private sector without subjecting those who received cuts to greater pain. Besides, benchmarking had been very good to public servants over the past decade. People have quibbled with the ESRI reports but there is a preponderance of opinion that believes that public sector workers did have a premium.

    Bertie Ahern and his Governments bought their way out of problems during the good times. When you begin to look at the kind of working arrangements that some sectors had, there were a lot of extras and little bonuses built in that made them look, well, a bit dodgy. The long list of bonuses (some of them completely unjustifiable) for the gardai was the most egregious. But when you have systemic unfairness coupled with ineffeciency in some cases (though not all) something has to give.

    Sure, the pay increases hardly kept up with a burgeoning increase in the cost of living (especially on property, which went nuts). But once the bubble burst, the correction was always going to be painful. On balance, given the nightmare it was faced with, the Government hadn’t a lot of wiggle room and made the argument (fiercely contested) that some of those who had done well out of the State over the ten years of the bubble should give a little back.

    Of course, it was the developers and bankers who caused all of the problems. They are falling like skittles now.

    Already there have been a couple of perp walks from bankers. Expect all the developers who featured in the social and business pages as the brains behind the Celtic Tiger, to feature in the NAMA write-down this week. This time though they should be mocked as the harmful dunces who brought us all to our knees.

    And as for the politicians, I suspect that the public will see the next General Election as payback time. I think what will surprise people the most is the number of senior ministers who will lose their seats. My own guess is that over half the Cabinet won’t survive.

    • Liam says:

      I’d be curious to know in the recent polls how FF can still count on 20%+ support?
      Even if people think that an FG Labour coalition would have brought us to the same point, how can they hang on to such a solid base?

    • eamonn says:

      ‘We all became junkies’.

      No we didn’t Harry. No we didn’t. And no matter how many times that particularly insidious piece of ideology is repeated – it will still not be true.

    • In another life, when I was editor of Lá Nua, the Irish language daily newspaper, I predicted a wipeout of FF, the party would lose up to 30 seats, such was the discontent I detected from my editorial perch in Belfast around Ireland. And then the election happened and the people voted in increasing numbers for …..FF …..because it seems they were afraid to put their precious and very precarious lifestyle at risk by butting power in the hands of the Opposition.

      Politics is a long game. Maybe my prediction re 2007 will come true this time. Or maybe the people will confound expectations once again and vote for the devil they think they know. Prediction is a game for mugs and commentators, interchangeable terms some will say.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Well it seems the saving grace is that the Irish are not completely thick and corrupted and some comfort has to be that FF is now at 25% give or take. It never fell below about 40% even when people were faced with all the evidence of CJH and his band of crooks were doing. Irish people simply refused to face their role in putting these people into power and linking their vote and the resulting failures across all of society.

      However, it seems the penny has finally dropped and FF is now about 25% – this is a massive shift and we can’t know how it will impact on the next election. Added to that are the revelations of church abuse and business and professional corruption – all of which it seems was facilitated by a corrupted political system that refused to ever hold anyone to account.

      I think those in FF know it doesn’t matter when the election is or who leads FF but that it is facing the worst election result it has ever faced since its foundation and there are massive implications if FF is out of office for more than one term for the first time because the lifeblood of FF is patronage and if the new FG/Lab government pushes through the sort of reforms they claim they will then the secrecy around the gift of patronage will be removed so even if FF do get back in they won’t have the ability to appoint the ‘lads’ to jobs they are not fit for. Added to which is the fact the builders don’t have as much money to hand over to FF as before without drawing attention to where this money is from.

      So it seems the rules have changed and does it really matter that people are supporting FG/L because FF are so bad rather than FG/L being so good if it gets FG/L into power and when in power they change the rules of the game in their favour.

      It’s been a painful lesson but I think it was long overdue that Irish people had to face the consequences of their actions – the crumbled economy, the exposed church abusers, the corrupt politics and how it infected every pillar of society and goes right back to a person in a ballot box picking a FF candidate and deluding themselves there are no consequences or that they didn’t vote for the corrupt one.

      People can’t delude themselves that they weren’t part of causing this problem.

    • barbera says:

      There are two separate miracles of Jesus in the Gospels which involve loaves and fish. The first miracle, “The feeding of the 5000″ is also known as the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. The second miracle, “The feeding of the 4000″ is also known as the miracle of the seven loaves and fishes. In neither miracle were the loaves stale or the fishes rotting.

    • Liam says:

      Fitz – “People can’t delude themselves that they weren’t part of causing this problem”

      some were , some were not, I’m in the second camp but the last thing I want to do is be part of the bailout of the “losers”. I’ll take the paycuts as it’s easy enough to save when you have your mortgage paid off, but I’ll be upset if I get stung for a raft of new taxes.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      If anything is to change for the better in Ireland then the first step is for those who created the mess to admit it, whether in politics and business or the church and then to resign and spend the rest of their life repenting for their sins like John Profumo.

      More importantly those Irish people who voted for FF, despite all the evidence presented to them that it was rotten to the core, or those who contact TDs to get passports or pull a stroke or whatever. It includes those who cut corners on paying staff or tax or bills etc. The mind boggles at the workmen who were ripped off by Irish employers in the building trade. Another tribunal would have another payday looking into that.

      The country seems to be 50/50 between those who live all their lives within the rules and play honestly and get precious little in return it seems and those who don’t play fair and seem to bleed off the other half and get away with it.

      I have never voted for FF or the PDs, I have never not paid a bill or my taxes, I have never conned anyone and I have never taken anything that wasn’t mine. Yet I now have to watch my elderly parents who also played by the rules scared to death they won’t be able to keep paying their VHI and end up in a public hospital on a trolley. Worrying about how their children will ever be financially stable when their older children are now at the age they were when they were finishing their mortgage and starting to look at having more money available than they needed to cover bills.

      Yet yesterday the biggest con ever perpetuated in Ireland since Dev’s economic war took place without so much as one person even picketing the Dáil.

      Not one single government official, TD, banker, builder, developer, estate agent or auditor etc has been identifed as drafting the regulation or rules that allowed this mess to happen and been held to account.

      The line of blame leads right to the top of Fianna Fáil and PD politicians and responsibility needs to start with them and work its way down through the system. These people don’t even have the moral compass to stop TDs claiming pensions on top of full Oireachtas salaries or to give up hanging onto teacher jobs and yet they have the neck to tell us they know how to fix the banking system so that it lends to people who run businesses without those people having to have some sort of link to a vested interest crony circle. Please.

      Fine Gael refused to do the bidding of Independent Newspapers in 1997 and look at the payback before that election which refused to back the Rainbow government – how different things would have been.

      So Liam if you don’t want to bail out the losers then get involved in a campaign to hold them to account before any more of your children’s or grandchildren’s future is sold away, and that applies to everyone living in Ireland.

      The complete and total silence from the public is all the signal the likes of Cowen needs.

      The tragic irony is that the last GUBU Fianna Fáil government brought the country to its knees was led by CJH and included Ber Cowen, Clem Coughlan, Brian Lenihan Snr and Des Hanafin at its dark heart, and lo and behold one generation later their children have ruined the country once again.

      The Irish public put them where they are now and can’t pass the buck about doing that and the first step to change has to be the Irish public making its voice heard so loud that the government is forced out.

      Just like there can be no moving on and recovery within the church until all the bishops and officials who were part of the cover up of such abuse have been removed to spend the rest of their life repenting, the same applies to politics – as long as Fianna Fail remains in office and the likes of Cowen and Coughlan and Lenihan and Hanafin are re-elected by the public there can be no rebuilding of the Irish governmental system.

    • dealga says:

      If we want to nail insidious ideology we can also include the BS line ‘I didn’t benefit from the Celtic Tiger’, which is utter rubbish too for the vast majority – taxes were lowered to unsustainable levels, wages rose across the board (tourism workers were still being paid £2 – £3 per hour in the late ’90s), new records were being set annually for numbers of people buying cars and taking trips abroad, the number of coffee shops and restaurants exploded as people sought a convenience lifestyle and prices rose in line with increased demand and consumption, which reflected the increasing affluence. Welfare payments were also massively increased.

      As for the Public Sector workers, their pay rises in line with benchmarking were paid for by the transaction taxes on the property bubble. Where else do they think the money came from?

    • Marie Mc Laughlin says:

      I would like to make a comment on the state of our country and the appalling way it is has been governed by our government.

      There is so much anger, frustration and disappointment on the ground, why not get the people out marching on the streets to get our point across. After all we are the people who have the power to get this government out just as we elected them in. We are empowering them by not standing up for our beliefs and demonstrating out on the streets to show our complete lack of faith in this government. I, a housewife, would never have conducted my personal affairs as they have been done by our state. I would have been under a long time ago.

      Where is the passion and patriotism of the Irish people that we are lying down and letting this government wipe their feet on us. Please, please, please can we organise ourselves to get out and show our pure disgust at this government.

      If we can channel our anger and frustration into a peaceful demonstration against the government, at least we will feel vindicated that we are concerned about the future of our country. For the ordinary people on the street who are feeling so much anger and frustration it would be a good way for everyone to get together and to march united. I think that our forebears would cringe in their graves to see their free Ireland now.

      The time for talking is over and now it is time for action and as one man put it we could march armed with our bodhrans………….

      I think that would be the best way to get the Irish people motivated in this crisis. If only we could follow the example of the old age pensioners……… what is wrong with us, are we going to accept all this abomination from our government. Our beautiful country has been torn apart.

      Yours sincerely

    • Ray D says:

      I see it again – pay rises (plural).from benchmarking. There were only two benchmarking exercises. The awards from the first were paid but the awards from the second were withheld. We should at least get that right once and for all.

      What has amazed me is how craven a people we are.

      NAMA has transformed a private debt into a public debt and there has been no reaction. Virtually no one went to the anti-NAMA marches months ago. Following the second slashing of public pay in 2010 in the last budget, Cowen said that the next step in his anti-public sector agenda was to negotiate the reforms that the public sector unions had offered but against the background that if the reforms were not implemented public pay would be slashed again. Amazingly the unions have now negotiated such a scenario that Cowen was resolved to impose anyway and try to portray it as a triumph. Our unions also demonstrate how craven we are.

      I would not bet against FF doing well in the next election.

    • kynos says:

      “Of course, it was the developers and bankers who caused all of the problems. They are falling like skittles now.” – no mate. It was the howling moral vacuum at the heart of Irish political financial economic social and religious life that caused all of the problems. The developers and bankers, the bad ones, were only a symptom. That same howling moral vacuum sees it as ok to betray this Republic to cowardice inhumanity and rapine every day of the year down Shannon airport way. Saw in ’03 that this government and its supporters could nod and wink at torture and illegal war, and the betrayal of all those who died 60/70 years ago because of Irish neutrality, and the betrayal of all the dead generations who knew first hand the horrors of imperialist wars of aggression and suppression and conquest, and the betrayal of all the values we proclaimed in our Bunreacht and to the world we believed in. Knew it was all over bar the shouting. Just takes time for evil deeds to ripen same as good. FF threw away Ireland’s Tao. Not to mention their own. The destruction of that party is absolutely inevitable. I hope to god the same’s not true of Ireland.

    • kynos says:

      I should say absolutely inevitable barring miracles. If miracle would be the right word for anything preventing such a fortuitous outcome.

    • kynos says:

      I was outside the country for much of the Celtic Tiger, having to work in far-flung fodden fields to pay for an amazingly costly divorce. Remember though back in around 96 or 97 standing on the roof of my old office down Merchant’s Quay maybe even 95 and counting the cranes in a 180 arc. There were 18. Said to my colleague standing there with me if these ever drop below 13 the place is in trouble. Said to myself I hope all this new money doesn’t destroy my country. Feck. Well. Maybe, knowing now what we know, it needed to be destroyed. It was mostly bullshit myth legend and lies. Mostly lies. Damn near everything I was brought up to believe in about this place turned out to be a lie. Thing is, knew it early on deep down. Stuff in my own life told me. But when you’re confronted with the undeniable reality it just hurts like hell. Feel very sorry for older Irish people so I do. Their church, their state, in many cases their pensions and investments and savings, have been destroyed from within by Liars. They must feel so bereft.

    • kynos says:

      Anyway Cowen’s a bullet-stopper. That’s his karma. He’s just there to take all the unpopularity until 2012 when he’ll be pushed onto his sword and some new cheeser will take the helm.

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