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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 11, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

    The Parable of Andrei Arshavin

    Harry McGee

    This is the parable of Andrei Arshavin*, Russian international, a man of quixotic and enigmatic talents.

    The very first time I saw him play was during the European championships.

    His performance was incredible. He shimmied left and right; he slotted through perfect passes;  showed himself to be blessed of almost  unnatural talents.

    And then…

    He disappeared from view. He was on the pitch but wholly anonymous for the rest of the tournament. He could well have been up in Row G.

    I have seen his teams play on a great many occasions since then but sometimes it’s impossible to find him and you wonder is he on the pitch at all?

    True, he occasionally rouses himself to remind us all of those glittering talents. But those occasions have been sporadic and, to me, have seemed few and far between.

    He is what pundits describe as a temperamental player.

    * I have taken a little artistic licence on Arshavin. He is not Mr Consistency but he plays well for Arsenal regularly enough. Well, far more regularly than the subject matter of this blog. Please read on…

    When something went wrong with something in government, Bertie Ahern had a great knack of recreating himself as Bertie the Bystander. That’s really terrible, he would say. We should not stand for that.

    Of course, the reason things were so terrible was because of decisions – or to be more accurate the lack of them – made by his government. That made no difference to Bertie. No better man to distance himself from trouble.

    With Brian Cowen it’s different. It’s the Magnificent Biffolino  and his amazing old-fashioned vanishing act. When something happens, he can distance himself not only in words but also in person. Where has he been since Christmas? Phwut. He has evaporated in a puff of (cigarette) smoke into thin air.

    Ah now, easy on, He’s working away at his desk, making all those hard unpalatable decision, according to his people. But for Joe Public out there he may as well have been holed up during a blizzard on the North Face of Everest for the last three weeks  sipping Bovril and contemplating the unavoidable reality that he is completely cut off from all human civilisation.

    And that’s what makes him such a poor Taoiseach. He does not understand people. He does not understand the way of the world, the way of politics. He doesn’t understand that the world has moved on and the fact that he was a champion debater at Roscrea; that he swanned through his exams in UCD; that the rewards of national politics came so easy to him, just doesn’t cut it any more. A handful of stellar (and increasingly less so) performances a year haven’t done it. Won’t do it any more.

    His race is over. And the problem with his Fianna Fail colleagues is that they are up in the stands holding the betting slips bearing his name, knowing with a sinking-feeling, that he’s a beaten docket but the starting flag has already been raised and  it’s too late to back anybody else.

    Where has he been since Christmas? And why has he not been out to defend his meetings and contacts with Sean Fitzpatrick? Has the energy that saw him do a round of TV and radio appearances  before Christmas melted away like the snows.

    Well, yes.

    I’ve discussed, in a previous blog, the perils of doing phone surveys to ascertain the ‘mood’ within political parties at any given time. TDs will tell you one thing in private but may say something different in public. They may also never act out their private sentiments. Having said that, the mood this week is resigned and almost fatalistic.

    They all believe the optics of it are bad, terrible even. But no Minister is going to take out Cowen unless the crisis spins out of control in to a fully-fledged scandal. And though one or two middle-grounders are now beginning to get angry – as opposed to frustrated – with Cowen and his inconsistency, nobody really believes there is any benefit in taking him out before the election.

    A number of the party’s younger TDs are clearly getting frustrated with the sense of inertia among the officer class and are beginning to make mutinous sounds. Others are trying to forge ahead with a bit of energy and original thinking, knowing it will be largely left to their generation to heal a crippled organisation.

    The best contribution has come from the  Cork TD Michael McGrath. He pointed out that the party needs to get younger people into position to articulate its position in ministries held by Greens, by Mary Harney, and by the Fianna Fail ministers who have announced they are retiring. Nobody is out there pummelling away at the opposition with the Fianna Fail artillery. Cowen should show some dynamism and move to correct that, he argues.

    Mary Harney has been on holidays for three weeks now. Whatever about the alleged politicisation of the trolley and A&E issue, her continuing absence over the hike in VHI fees is almost indefensible.a

    If Cowen had any political courage, he would have decommissioned the last piece of rusting weaponry from the PDs a long while ago.

    They always harp on about his loyalty to the party and to colleagues. Loyalty is grand as long as it’s not the patently wrong thing to do.

    As for wrong things to do, his failure to inform anybody until now of his contacts with Sean Fitzpatrick in 2008 shows how out-of-touch he is. His statement last night had a touch of the Willie O’Deas about it – wholly unapologetic. If he doesn’t understand how potent the disclosures are, he should have stepped aside a long time ago.

    Sure he has taken brave and unpopular decisions in the past two years. And he won’t be thanked for it. But the decisions were only to undo the demented policies of the previous seven years. It’s true that other political parties and many citizens lost their bearings and political perspective in the face of the lure offered by rising property prices.  But in the blame stakes,  he – with the exception of Ahern, McCreevy and Harney – is guiltier than anybody else.

    Yet  somehow he thinks that during the Election campaign he will suddenly turn it all around with magical Andrei Arshavin performances.

    It’s not going to happen.

    He will resign as quickly as Michael Noonan did in 2002.

    • robespierre says:

      If he does resign, I hope he has the good grace to wait until the last seat has been decided. Noonan if you remember resigned in time for the 9 o’clock news the day of the count while seats were still being decided – he was a poor people manager also. A great team member however.

      The cabinet are knackered and out of touch. They are so used to the permanent civil service that I would question who challenges who anymore. Cowen looks and sounds burned out. Harney lost her drive at least four years ago and has been anonymous ever since.

      I don’t however buy the we made difficult decisions bit. They voted themselves handsome salaries to make the wrong calls and are still paying themselves gross salaries of 17k a month in the Taoiseach’s case to undo the damage done.

      I am not unsympathetic in general and don’t wish any FFer harm on a personal level but we need rentokill fast to solve the problem. The main issue is some people won’t take the bait so the odd FFer will get through to the next Dáil.

    • Eoin says:

      Great post Harry, Cowen truly is an enigma – the polar opposite of Ahern, but no better for it.

    • barbera says:

      Wrong, wrong, wrong, Harry…………………..Brian Cowen is brilliant and Brian Cowen + Brian Lenihan = GENIUS
      Btw………….wtf is Michael Noonan doing back on our screens — that guy is sooooooooooo depressing…………

    • barbera says:

      + Is it any wonder hardly anyone comments here…………..soooooooooooooo slow putting up the comments………..and we’ve heard all the excuses

    • dealga says:

      I’m interested by “the best contribution has come from the Cork TD Michael McGrath. He pointed out that the party needs to get younger people into position to articulate its position in ministries held by Greens, by Mary Harney, and by the Fianna Fail ministers who have announced they are retiring”.

      He’s my TD and the image of his gurning mug on ‘Vote Local! Vote McGrath’ posters from the last election are burned into my brain, so you nearly caught me out with that bit. Then I copped on and remembered that Fianna Fáil’s ‘position’ on anything depends pretty much entirely on what they think is required to keep a grasp on power.

    • Harry McGee says:

      you are very cruel dealga! Poor old Michael.

    • PaddyO says:

      Anyway, if its conspiracy theories yiz are lookin’ for, what I want to know is why aren’t the media investigating Pat Rabbitte’s Hezbollah connections – did he or did he not say on Frontline with Pat Kenny on Monday last that he would prefer to go into coalition with them………well he did say that..!
      Yeah and what about Fine Gael’s website……….all their talk of jobs and they wouldn’t even give the job of creating their website to brilliant young Irish people……yeah and then look what happened……….they wan’t to run the country and they can’t even manage a website…………..

    • Richard Dalton says:

      Cowan’s biggest mistake was to cling to power when he became Taoiseach. Even before the last election there were voices within FF that accepted that if ever there was an election to lose, that was it.
      On taking power Cowan could have taken a second crack at losing an election, and ensured safe passage to the opposition benches. From there he and the rest of the FFers could have shouted abuse at the FG government, as it administered the necessary harsh medecine. It would have been easy to convince the FF sheep that the economy was grand until we handed it over to that shower.

      There’s a saying that wanting power should be the first sign that one isn’t suited to having it. Never was that more true than for Cowan. We can only hope that he has destroyed FF and it’s role as the permanent government. If he has, then despite everything he will have done the state some service.

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