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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 24, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

    The failure of politics and the politics of failure

    Harry McGee

    The end of these arrangement tends to be a grubby affair.

    When heterogenous parties are yoked together like that, there are inevitably going to be tensions. Initially – sometimes for a long time – the fit seems workable. But in times of looming crisis, the stitches just rip out. Sometimes it’s drawn out. At other times, it falls apart so quickly that it’s gone in the flash of an eye.

    The junior partner is the one that usually occupies the eject seat.

    In this case, the Greens waited very late – until the aircraft was in an uncontrollable tailspin – to bail out.

    And it wasn’t pretty.

    No matter how they tried to dress it up as some kind of principle, it still looked tawdry. Neither of the parteis have come out well from this.

    Of course, the Greens owed Fianna Fail nothing. Cowen tried to pull a fast one with his disastrous unilateral decison to go ahead with the reshuffle.

    But the Greens in recent months have shown themselves quite capable of pulling sly ones themselves.

    It must not be forgotten that they unilaterally decided to pull the plug on Government last November with their own ‘rush of blood to the head moment’.

    And did they consult with their partners before holding their press conference?  Well, erm.. no.

    In fact, they left it so late that they were unable to contact Cowen in time. And had to delay their conference until Gormley got him on the other end of the telephone.

    Like the Labour Party, the way the Greens tell it, there is always a higher motive. If you even timorously  suggest they – sorry, have to use a technical phrase here – are covering their own behinds, you are ordered by them to go off and say three decades of the Rosary for even allowing such an impure thought cross your mind.

    There are a couple of decision where the party will be on a sticky wicket when explaining the exit strategy in terms of ‘we’re a party of principle that doesn’t look for heads on plates’.

    1. Its decision to exit Government before the Finance Bill. The party wanted out but was committed to the Finance Bill. The only way they could go and save face was to plead with the opposition to support an early passage. That will mean that the Finance Bill as presented will be as diluted as a homeopathy remedy. In other words, a pale shadow of the Finance Bill the Greens wanted through. They can dress it up all they like but that’s what it this is, a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of its strategy. It also allowed Fine Gael to have complete control of the unfolding agenda.

    (In fact, Fine Gael is now pushing all the levers. It is the government by proxy.)

    2. The backchannel with Fine Gael. The attempted backchannel with Labour. And both  ongoing since the autumn. That’s all sounds a bit furtive and ‘uisce faoi thalamh’ for a party that prides itself on its principled stands on issues. It doesn’t sound very consistent to be in Government with one party while maintaining contacts with others, presumably unknown to the other party.

    3. The party said it arrived at the decision by consensus. What it didn’t say was that it arrived at the decision unanimously. Because the decision to pull out of Government was not unanimous. One member of the parliamentary party argued strongly that the party should stay in Government until the Finance Bill was completed (a matter of ten days) but was over-ruled by colleagues.

    There’s an obvious boxing metaphor for the fate of Fianna Fail. It’s like Muhammed Ali – long past his prime – deciding to take on the unremarkable young pretender Larry Holmes. The great champion was pulverised, embarrasingly so. Holmes, in the end, shook his head sadly, knowing that it was a mismatch, that it was an unedifying spectacle.

    The party is in terrible demise. It will take a whole generation to reverse… and there is no guarantee it can ever recover what has been lost. Of course, its destiny has been determined by its own actions.

    Enoch Powell’s old dictum about all political careers ending in failure rang true again. And for the unfortunate Cowen, ‘failure’ is almost a euphemism for his fate.

    And as for Labour and Fine Gael?

    It has been handed to them on a silver platter.

    The Finance Bill was always going to be a proble for both parties.

    Both are (quote) opposed (unquote) to it. But both want it to go through so they won’t have the headache of having to redraw a Budget that they don’t agree on.

    So both actually want to see it get through.

    And now they have the amazingly fortuitous scenario being presented to them. Allow the quick passage of the Bill and you will get an early election.

    So both will facilitate the passage of the Bill (which both really really want to see going through) and then both will have the luxury of voting against it. In collusion with the Greens (and relucantly) Fianna Fail.

    Yep, it’s like the last chapter of Animal Farm.

    A double shot of hypocrisy all round. Cheers!

    • A.Commenter says:

      Not to mention the failure of political pundits/correspondents…time for a clear out there as well…!

    • DesJay says:

      The Greens proved themselves unfit for government, not because they finally got put, but because they went in in the first place. Governing entails a wide range of policies. Greens and the environment, that’s understood; Green jobs, we can understand. What is Green policy on health? No plastic syringes? Green policy on law and justice No plastic bullets?

      The misfortunate thing about recent coalitions is that they showed FF to be willing to do anything to hold on to power. They left responsibility for Health to Mary Harney, who went off on a tangent on a harsh conservative tack. But that was the price of her support for the government. Likewise the Greens. At a time of frightful economic difficulty they acted as if Ireland was a major contributor to the world’s green house gases. And insisted on a carbon tax. Ireland was going to solve global warming? What idiocy!

      But the FF bosses allowed that. Cowen abdicated his responsibilities as taoiseach: but then, with the state of the language, maybe he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Maybe Des Bishop didn’t explain it well enough.

    • Paul Gogarty says:

      When you talk about these back channels, Harry, you have to remember that the Party did not have any back channels, nor knew of any going back as long as you suggest; this does not mean that individuals cannot form them off their own bat.

    • Cathorio says:

      I would go so far as to say Irish Politics has sunk to an all time low.
      With all the pontification and procrastinating going on among the Parties only one party seems to be concerned about what the people want and that is Sinn Fein.
      Fianna Gael and Labour want to assist the passing of the Finance Bill even though they say they are against it.
      Where is the logic in this….
      They along with the Greens and Fianna Fail are only interested in Power!! not what the electorate want,
      I found the whole episode rather amusing …..All of a sudden we have Labour and Fianna Gael shouting ” No Confidence” in the Government.
      A bit late I say….much too late.
      Labour call themselves ‘Left’ I don’t think so.
      They like the others have abandoned the people.
      Now it’s time for the people to abandon them.
      I for one will give my vote to Sinn Fein. Up to now my family and I would have supported Labour.

    • John Dublin says:

      This finance bill is not necessary. The real problem is all the leadership and all the planners have their heads in the clouds. I am uploading my election website this week, and I am bringing out a concrete plan for recovery and job creation. Real jobs for real people. It has the potential to WIPE OUT unemployment in this country, my country. Sounds impossible right? It’s not. The sad bit is… I’m just a regular working man. The website and the plan all done by my own heart and hands while struggling to survive, without being paid a penny. In my eyes, it should bring utter shame to those who lead, and want to lead this country. Every young person deserves the opportunity of employment and a future… and not every citizen of this country is some high-end academic, ‘smart economy or IT’ specialist. This country needs real leadership, real meat-and-potatoes jobs and real direction. By this Thursday, the country is going to start seeing the alternative to all the crap currently presented to them.

    • John O' Driscoll says:

      Very good Harry. The Greens will be wiped out. Dan Boyle weilding so much power and he’ a nominee to the Seanad that most of the establishment want shot of. Paul Gogarty is a rude monkey as me grandmother would say.FF made disastrous errors -unbelieveable- and they will pay a heavy price.
      I have no faith in Labour. FG sans EK is best option

    • Michael says:

      As I mentioned on another Blog I don’t think it is hypocritical for Fine Gael or Labour to delay their no confidence motion for a week in order to facilitate an early election. Enda Kenny made a similar offer in December 2010. My understanding of the constitutional position is that if a No Confidence motion was put down this week and it was won by the FF government (with Green party support to see through their stated objective of putting Finance Bill 2011 into law) then another couldn’t be tabled for 6 months.

      FF and its new leader could then pass Finance Bill 2011 at its leisure again counting on the Green party’s stated support for the Bill. After that was passed with the Greens firmly in opposition there would be no opportunity to force FF out of office for months. The Dail would only be dissolved at the earliest of Brian Cowen’s discretion, another No Confidence motion after the 6 month delay has elapsed or another “Money” Bill is voted on in the Dail. So the Fine Gael and Labour position in opposing the Finance Bill but facilitating an extended Dail and weekend Seanad session to allow for an early election is principled, consistant and responsible.

    • Matt says:

      The politics of failure have failed,we need to make them work again!

    • Frank Jameson says:

      A dig at Labour and support for Fine Gael. The Irish Times election policy is becoming clear. It began with a bizarre editorial on January 17th: “But the latest outbreak of Sean Fitzpatrick stories and Anglo Irish Bank was just the final straw for a party which is convulsed by the circumstances in which it finds itself at the doors of public opinion.” What does this garbled “sentence” mean?
      Later it described Labour’s no confidence motion as “ill-judged and ill-timed” exactly the words used in the Fine Gael press release.
      The Times is coming out in its true colours……..Blue.


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