The Price of Power: Inside Ireland’s Crisis Coalition, by Pat Leahy
Leahy exposes the undermining of cabinet government by a Coalition gambling that it can clean up the mess by the next general election
This is the closest we can get to an official contemporary history of the Government’s first two years. Leahy is no mouthpiece, but neither is he in the business of dissecting or challenging what he has been told. He has some deliciously barbed asides – on James Reilly’s support base in his party: “He has a constituency of one, the occupant of the Taoiseach’s office” – but he mostly keeps his views to himself.
This studied neutrality has its drawbacks and frustrations – his opinion about whether Richard Bruton protected Denis O’Brien’s interests in the takeover of Independent Newspapers is “perhaps, perhaps not” – but it also has its advantages. We can take what appears in the book on face value and draw our own conclusions.
The most striking conclusion concerns not what the Government did but what it did not do. There is a way of looking at the first year of the Coalition as a story of failed expectations. Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and their cohort came in, on this view, with a genuine desire for radical change. After all, they proclaimed in the programme for government nothing less than a “democratic revolution”.
But they were, tragically, beaten down by the sheer force of circumstance. They wanted to be revolutionaries, but cold reality forced them to be reactionary.
Leahy’s insider account makes it entirely clear that this view is far too generous. His informants (and they certainly include very senior members of the Cabinet from both parties) leave him in no doubt that there was never any real intention to challenge the troika deal, the ruinous bank bailout or the determination of the existing order to preserve itself.
The entire mindset of the incoming administration was governed by a single perception: that the “democratic revolution” had already occurred. It was not a process of changing the power structures or challenging the appropriation of public resources for private gain on a phenomenal scale. It was simply a matter of getting Fianna Fáil out: “To Kenny and Gilmore, the real change was the replacement of the government. To them, this was self-evidently a change for the better.”
For all the immense goodwill that accompanied its election, “there were no serious voices in government calling for dramatic departures in government policy”. You have to read that sentence twice to remember that the second “government” here refers to Fianna Fáil. The democratic revolution was always seen by the insiders as a change of personnel, not of approach.