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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 18, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    FF in the Doldrums

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    I am reproducing below an analysis piece on Fianna Fail which appeared in last Tuesday’s  print edition of  The Irish Times. It was written before the Taoiseach’s Morning Ireland interview and the subsequent storm that broke when Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney suggesed in a Tweet that Mr Cowen may have been drunk. Some people were kind enough to say the piece herewith was “prescient” but others may have a different view!

    Soldiers of Destiny face up to ‘saving the



    Tue, Sep 14, 2010

    STATE OF THE PARTIES: PART 1: FIANNA FÁIL: ANALYSIS: The party is confronting the crisis in the hope voters realise it’s not about politics anymore

    THE FIANNA Fáil party is like a prisoner on death row who is facing the prospect of execution between now and the middle of 2012 but still hopes against hope that somehow or other his sentence will be commuted and maybe even a pardon granted.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Having won a famous victory against the odds in the general election of 2007, the Soldiers of Destiny assumed they would be taking up where they left off, as the party of near-permanent government.

    That election was won by Brian Cowen, who effectively took over the reins from an embattled and unnerved Bertie Ahern, led the troops unflinchingly into the fray and emerged with the big prize. Within a year, Cowen had replaced Ahern as Taoiseach. He had brains to burn, no baggage over “dig-outs” and dinners, and conveyed a Lemass-type no-nonsense image as a practical politician who got things done.

    But the sunny days of the Celtic Tiger were coming to a dramatic end. The endless summer of our prosperity was a delusion which gave way to the nuclear winter of a worldwide recession rendered doubly toxic by a domestic disaster in the property and banking sectors.

    Brian Cowen now resembles the captain of a winning All-Ireland team who takes a deep draught from the Sam Maguire or Liam MacCarthy cup, only to discover that the champagne has been poisoned.

    This week the party’s TDs and Senators have assembled in Galway for the ritual “think-in” that precedes the opening of the new Dáil term.

    The focus has been on jobs and employment creation with a closing session this morning where guest speakers explore the sober topic of “Banking and Credit”.

    Party cheerleaders are eager to point out that the emphasis is on practical policy matters, unlike the Fine Gael gathering in Waterford last week which they seek to portray as an unwarranted display of pre-election brashness.

    The assumption that a general election is inevitable in the next nine or 10 months is challenged by some Fianna Fáil insiders who recall similar predictions in previous Dáil sessions which proved to be unfounded. But others in the party anticipate that, with three probable byelection defeats looming some time in the new year, the Dáil is likely to be dissolved by June at the latest. Given the extremely poor ratings of the party and its leader in the opinion polls, it is clear that TDs are getting increasingly anxious about their prospects of survival.

    The continuing and disastrous saga of Anglo Irish Bank has not helped to steady nerves. “Maybe we should be hopping up and down like lunatics over Anglo,” a Dublin deputy said at the weekend, “but on the other hand, who knows what would have happened if you let the bank go?”

    The party leader’s approach to communications remains a concern, even to his supporters. “He has done so many things right,” said a Cowen loyalist. “But he knows he has a communications problem and yet does nothing about it.” A series of party heavyweights had tried to get this issue addressed, the backbench deputy continued. “They told him what he should do and he has ignored their advice.”

    Some of the blame is being placed on Cowen’s staff and advisers for allegedly allowing a vacuum to develop whereby the Government is taking most of the flak for the financial crisis instead of the bankers and regulators, who have gotten off relatively lightly.

    Whereas Fianna Fáil won the last election because of its perceived economic competence, it has now become what one senior party figure called “the ogre” in the political melodrama and has failed to present an opposing narrative.

    At the same time, considerable personal sympathy exists in the party for the burden Cowen must carry, willy-nilly, as head of Government in the middle of the greatest economic disaster we have faced. “I would say it has taken lumps out of him,” said one close observer. But the same source said this was no excuse for Cowen’s overcasual approach to priceless media encounters where an audience of maybe half a million or more listeners or viewers would be waiting for a word of encouragement or inspiration.

    Although Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan’s star and his grasp of commercial realities have been somewhat tarnished as the scale of the Anglo debacle has begun to emerge, there is almost universal agreement among Fianna Fáil sources that, health permitting, the leadership is his for the taking anytime he wants it. But there is no evidence of any plotting over the summer. “Everyone was asleep,” said a Munster deputy. Nor is there any sign of an overt challenge to Cowen’s leadership although that could change if the opinion polls got even worse than they are now.

    There is an argument that, whoever takes the helm, the Fianna Fáil Titanic is going to meet that electoral iceberg. Not so, say party loyalists, pointing to what they regard as serious weaknesses on the Opposition. The Fine Gael leader, for example, is dismissed as “Kenny Lite” and even one of Cowen’s sharpest critics in the party said the best thing Fianna Fáil has going for it is that, “people just laugh at the phrase, ‘taoiseach Enda Kenny’.”

    Likewise, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is described as “not credible” and “soundbite man”. A top Fianna Fáil adviser lamented that, “Labour are getting away with absolute murder” because the media were allowing the party to criticise Government policy without advancing plausible alternatives.

    Although the party has fallen on hard times in the polls, Fianna Fáil sources insist the activist base is still sound, with regional and constituency conferences attended by different Ministers at a range of venues, including a city-centre hotel in Dublin, attracting sizeable attendances.

    More of these events are planned and work is under way to identify likely election candidates under the direction of Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey. Although the party’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years and even decades, there has never been a shortage of prospective TDs putting their names forward.

    Conor Cruise O’Brien once wrote that even if a political stake were driven through the heart of his arch-foe Charles J Haughey, he would still wear a clove of garlic round his neck, “just in case”, and the same could be said of the Fianna Fáil party in general, which can never be totally written off in electoral terms.

    Reflecting this perspective, a Dublin backbencher said he was praying that, “the public may say, ‘we absolutely hate you bastards, but you are the only shower of so-and-sos who can keep the show on the road’.” Others in the party were less optimistic, suggesting that Cowen’s day-to-day persona was too well-known for him to transmute into an electoral dynamo when the country goes to the polls again.

    In any case, the crisis is too deep for any political gimmick or stroke to transform public opinion. A party strategist said the minds of the voters tended to crystallise at a late stage and that Cowen’s strongest argument is that he did the right thing for the sake of the country and took the inevitable consequences.

    “There’s no political rabbit in the hat. It’s not about politics any more, it’s about saving the nation,” the strategist continued. “The issue is self-belief.”










    Deaglán de Bréadún is Political Correspondent

    © 2010 The Irish Times


    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Where exactly is the evidence that Brian Cowen has ‘brains to burn’ – I can’t think of a single issue that is associated with Cowen in the sense that he has an interest it and has followed it through?

      Ditto Brian Lenihan, here we have the myth being made again by the media that Lenihan had nothing at all to do with the wreckage of the Irish economy, as if he wasn’t sitting around a cabinet table until the day of the Anglo bail-out, as if hwasn’t a junior minister, as if he didn’t back Ahern to the hilt during the dit-outs and other events as a backbencher.

      Then there’s the coded inference about his health, for someone who has just been treated for cancer I have to say he looks remarkably the same as when he started his treatment, which makes me wonder on a scale of one to ten how serious it was, as in it’s always serious but serious as in life threatening or serious as in we identified this early enough to prevent it but to make sure you need to undergo treatment, what was the treatment, how often, did it inpair his judgement, if so why was he making decisions with such massive implications for decades to come and if not then why did he allow people think he was at death’s door and risking his health further to ‘save’ the nation.

      Time will tell if Lenihan really is as clever as you want him to be Deaglán and if he will appreciate that the moment he declares as a candidate for leader the nuance about him will change and he will be subjected to scrutiney he has never had to face before and he doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who will look well under intense light – he may well be a modest man, but he has much to be modest about – to misquote Churchill.

      The reality is that Fianna Fáil caused this mess we are in, it didn’t have to be this way. Cowen can apologise about being drunk, and incidentially RTE were already getting complaints about that interview before Coveney sent his tweet, but not about his mistakes as Finance Minister and until he faces up to what he got wrong, and those cheerleaders who effed him on do so too, then Fianna Fáil doesn’t deserve another chance at power ever again as the damage it has done over its long career far outweighs any of the good, which happened because others made it happen be it the Tallaght Strategy, the PDs and now the Greens. The mind boggles how much worse it would have been without these stops on even worse rampant cronyism.

      Mistakes made from picking the wrong policy after proper and genuine policy assessment are one thing but mistakes made because no policy assessment was made and the evidence of the rational behind the decisions can’t be justified with empirical data, as there is none, cannot be forgiven. I’ve read before Cowen was up til all hours the night he signed over the future of the next two generations to bail out his friends.

      Fianna Fáil is the party that wants the credit for putting out a fire it started on purpose in the first place and hopes it can do so without ever admitting to starting it – not only are the cabinet economic treasonists they are arsonists too!

      Just like today, it’s al lvery well for the Pope to claim to be sad and humiliated about child abuse but it would be better if he stopped preventing those who did the abuse to face justice for their crimes.

      If Fianna Fáil really do want to play a role in salavaging something from the wreckage in Ireland then it has to admit the role it had in creating the car crash and it has to identify those who were driving and they have to face justice for what they did.

      Having spent the summer reading Ship of Fools and all the other similar books in that vein from the last few years, my level of disgust at the politics of cronyism, so beloved in places like Ireland, Greece and Italt, and those who support it, either directly or indirectly is at an all time high.

    • jo bangles says:

      You said elsewhere that to be successful in Politics one needs to be liked…I think it is more importan to be respected and to be liked would be a bonus…
      I have listened carefully to the Popes homilies and I think he meets both of those criteria; he is both respected and liked as a consequence..I know this is a peculiar position from a marxistfeminist SFsympathiser…But once a Catholic
      Perhaps I am naive but I take what he says at face value…What he actually said was that he wanted ‘to express his deep sorrow to the victims of these unspeakable crimes’…This is a directed directly to the victims and it is the first time the Vatican has referred to child clerical sexual abuse as a crime…It has previously been referred to as a Sin which I suppose to Catholics is a more serious ‘crime’ against God but referring to it as a ‘crime’ shows that the Church/Vatian is recognising that itoffends not only against the Law of God but also against the Law of the land.
      For what it’s worth I think this is a HUGE step forward…and paves the way for the Vatican to put the matters in the hands of the Criminal authorities…
      I thought the Papal visit extraordinary and the Mass in Westminster Cathedral was indescribably beautiful…but I have always loved the sung Mass…
      The visit to the Oratory was particulary poignant for me for reasons I do not need to share here…
      I would not expect the Pope’s words to satisfy someone who cannot empathise with a cancer sufferer…To get back to my original point…respect is more important than popularity… to achieve one one would be considerable anything more would be a bonus…

    • What are you referring to when you say, “I would not expect the Pope’s words to satisfy someone who cannot empathise with a cancer sufferer…”?

    • jo bangles says:

      I was alluding to the callous/cavalier comments of the previous poster… set out here and elsewhere in respect of Brian Lenihan…
      I do not think it is necessary to have witnessed someone suffer from that cursed disease to empathise their suffering… actual or eventual… sympomatic or unsymptomatic…
      To be unable to do so borders on the sociopathic…I can only say I would not wish it on my worst enemy…
      I am therefore not surprised that he dismisses the Pope’s expression of ‘sorrow and shame’ in the same cavalier manner…
      I’m trying not to engage in ‘personalties’ so I’ll leave it at that!

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @ Jo; if you found out your child or nephew or niece was being abused in school would you just accept an apology that it wouldn’t happen again and leave it up to the school to decide how to handle the abuser?

      Highly unlikely I should think. Or if it was a family member would it all be hushed up and the police not called?

      So why should it be acceptable for the Catholic Church to say, we are sorry, the abuse was horrific (it’s horrific to read about so I would imagine it is even worse for those who suffered it and have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives) but no need to worry we have it under control and sure it doesn’t really matter that we will fight against any effort to have the abuser arrested and brought to justice. They admitted it goes on so why make a fuss.

      Well, if it goes in Ireland and the UK or EU or US, you can be sure it goes on in Africa and India and Asia and who is going to speak up for the victims in places like that, if we condone the Church hiding the abusers in so called modern democracies?

      The Church wants people to wait and see if ‘justice’ is done in the afterlife, well I’d like to see it done in the public courts as well.

      I empathise completely with a cancer sufferer. I merely ask if Brian Lenihan wants the job of Taoiseach, where he gets to make decisions that affect our lives and will continue to long after he retires, it is right to get the full picture.

      I do not believe FF should be in office no matter who is leader. Regardless of what one’s opinion of FG or L the damage FF has done excludes them from office. This brings us to the issue being floated that Lenihan can instigate a bloodless coup because he is ‘intelligent’.

      The opposition are not allowed free access to the books in finance so have to base their policies on respected 3rd party info, as fine as that is it is still not basing it on the actual facts if the 3rd parties are wrong because they too are not getting the correct data from finance.

      So we have Lenihan, making a decision in the early hours of the morning, in a room with no record or civil servants prescent, a decision that will impact on the lives of the next two generations at least, not to mention all the intended and unintended consequences that will flow from it.

      But we have no idea how he made the decision, on what information or why? Yet we are being primed to accept him as the ‘saviour’ of FF as if it’s a good thing FF should be saved? Why should it be saved, why shouldn’t FF go the way of many large parties before it.

      Which brings me to cancer. We don’t know the details of his illness. We all have family or friends who have had to deal with cancer so considering Lenihan’s hair is still jet black, his skin looks as grey and saggy as it did before and he doesn’t to my eye look any different to how he looked a few years ago, no weight loss. I’m curious as to what sort of treatment he had and what impact it had on his ability to make decisions.

      Because you can be told you have cancer but that it is not life threatening and that a few months of treatment will nip it in the bud, in which case the claim that he ‘soldiered on’ risking his health for the good of the nation rings a bit hollow, even leaving aside we might have been better off if he hadn’t bothered making any decisions.

      Or did he have full on in your face treatment, in which case there is no way he could have done his job properly and could not have made proper decisions. Which was it. If you put yourself up for public office, during the period you are in office there is no such thing as a private life and the reason is that if you have the power to make decisions affecting other people you give up the luxury to have a private life and if you are leading your private life honestly and there is no conflict with your public office role then there shouldn’t be a problem.

      Brian Lenihan and his supporters are happy to benefit from sympathy for his illness but they don’t want to provide details of that illness, so how do we know it was not merely a lump that can be treated but will be a few months of feeling a bit rubbish or full on chemo and yet this man is making massive decisions in the middle of the night without a proper account of it – the decisions to bail out the banks should have been made at a full cabinet meeting with everyone present – coming back from holiday or whatever if they needed to.

      The fact Lenihan didn’t demand this and thought it was ok to wake up a minister and ask them to say yes or no while half sleep to such a massive issue raises a serious issue about Lenihan’s judgement.

    • jo bangles says:

      I’ve just noticed the moderation of my comment @ 4 i.e.’unsymptomatic’ replaces the original ‘asymptomatic’…
      I think is the latter is correct…!

    • Unsymptomatic is what you wrote, I’m pretty sure. May be a symptom of something? ;-)

    • jo bangles says:

      Touche…! In that case stop slackin’ and apply your pedant pen an modhnoir !

    • minXie says:

      Gobsmacked, I was by one of the headlines today in the Irish Times. The “Swedish Model” – that beloved paradigm for Ireland of Vincent Browne et al – has gone up in smoke. Vanquished in the general election are Sweden’s Social Democrats…!! That news and Pope Benedict’s extraordinarily successful visit to Scotland & England leaves me with no faith whatsoever in the kind of commentary that certain elements of Irish media have been subjecting us to.

    • Tirnanog33 says:

      Was the “Croke Park Agreement” tackling the issues head on and “doing the right thing for the country” ;or was it rather pandering to a dangerous and well organized sectoral interest with a lot of votes under the hat?

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