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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 21, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    Background to Consensus

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Herewith the full version of a piece I wrote for today’s print edition on the background to
    the Government’s initiative on all-party consensus. Due to pressure on space and the fact that the talks process appeared to collapse, the piece that got into print was considerably shorter than what you have here, but I think it might still be of some interest:- 

    Any divergences between the coalition partners on the consensus talks
    were only differences of emphasis and posed no threat to the stability
    of the Govenrment, according to senior political sources in both

    The consensus initiative is almost unprecedented in modern Irish
    politics and you have to go back to the “Emergency” years of the
    second World War to find an historical parallel.

    However, given the uniqueness and potential importance of the
    initiative, there was a surprisingly casual and almost amateur aspect
    to the manner in which it was approached.

    Party leaders Brian Cowen and John Gormley both believe in securing
    broad agreement with the Opposition on some basic principles for
    dealing with the economic crisis.

    A more cautious politician than his Green counterpart, Cowen has all
    along argued for a careful, step-by-step approach without rushing into
    things or taking the Opposition parties further than they are prepared
    to go.

    Gormley, on the other hand, took a more adventuous line. Indeed,
    initially he even mentioned the need to consider forming a national
    government, although this idea was soon returned firmly to the

    The consensus idea had been discussed at meetings of the Green
    parliamentary party but as one senior Green political figure admitted:
    “It wasn’t pretty the way it came out in the end.”

    Rushing from one engagement to the next, Gormley gave an interview to
    TodayFM where, in the words of a party colleague, he “blurted it out”
    and managed to complicate the issue by repeated references to a
    national government.

    But the idea of all-party agreement was out in the open and as the day
    went on the Green leader refined his approach, commenting that,
    although it was too soon to call for a national government, there was
    a strong need for the parties to pull together and this would impress
    the European Commission and the global money markets.

    The Taoiseach had already, and somewhat more tentatively, hinted at a
    similar approach during a visit to Galway the previous Saturday.
    Having declared on RTE’s Nine O’Clock News that the Department of
    Finance would brief the Opposition, he said in response to a question
    on the possibility of reaching all-party consensus on the four-year
    Budget plan: “I’m open to listening to any constructive proposals from
    any quarter in the national interest.”

    After the Cabinet meeting the following Tuesday, Green Party
    Communications Minister Eamon Ryan approached Finance Minister Brian
    Lenihan, extolling the merits of all-party cooperation. Lenihan, who
    was about to depart for the annual meeting of the International
    Monetary Fund in Washington, expected Ryan to raise the matter at the
    Cabinet the following week and is understood to have been quite
    surprised when Gormley went on a solo-run two days later. But while he
    was in Washington, the Finance Minister said: “The logical next step
    is to see whether there is a common analysis.”

    Although Gormley texted the Taoiseach’s inevitably-busy mobile phone
    number in advance of “going public” and may even have tried to put
    through a call, Cowen had no advance knowledge of the Green leader’s
    impending announcement.

    When he spoke to the media the day after Gormley’s intervention,
    Cowen’s tone was rather low-key, perhaps reflecting a certain
    annoyance at his colleague from the Green Party, but the content of
    what he said was positive and he said he would have “no problem in
    principle” with meeting the leaders of the Opposition.

    The matter came up at Leader’s Questions in the Dail the following
    Tuesday where Taoiseach came across as distinctly more lukewarm than
    Gormley about the idea, but seeing the reaction to his words, Cowen
    decided to take the initiative next day by writing to the Opposition
    leaders inviting them to the meeting which eventually took place
    yesterday afternoon.

    Although the prospects for all-party agreement do not look at all
    bright, the Greens are convinced they were right to take the
    initiative because it put the focus firmly on the economy and on the
    Opposition’s responsibilities at a time of national crisis.

    • Ian says:

      Your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. This whole thing was a stunt to make the greens look good.

      The press went right along with it. Consensus really made the bank guarantee work out. Consensus really made social partnership work.

      Or did it?

    • tricoteuse says:

      Vive la Republique…!

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