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
And yet there was a kind of secret revolution: a sweeping and unannounced shift in the constitutional order. Leahy’s strictly narrative approach somewhat underplays the most important insight of his book: the sheer extent to which cabinet government (the only kind that is lawful under the Constitution) has been undermined. This has happened from two directions: the loss of sovereignty to the troika, particularly the European Central Bank, and the rise of a coterie of unelected, and entirely unaccountable, advisers.
The book’s most important single revelation concerns the first of these. Leahy describes what happened on March 28th, 2011, a few weeks after the Government took office. Michael Noonan proposed a detailed plan to burn some of the remaining bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank – speculators who had bought the bonds at a fraction of their face value and stood to make vast windfall profits from impoverished Irish taxpayers. The Cabinet took a decision, in the words of one Minister, “not to repay €6 billion in Anglo senior bonds”.
Three days later Jean-Claude Trichet, then president of the ECB, threatened that he would pull the plug on Ireland if this happened: “If you do it, the bomb will go off.” Noonan crumbled under this threat of financial terrorism. A sovereign Cabinet decision was simply torched.
Equally, though, cabinet government has been eaten away from the inside. The Price of Power is remarkable in the way it treats unelected advisers – almost all of them called Mark – as star players while many Ministers barely merit a mention. This is no whim: as Leahy definitively demonstrates, the centre of power has moved from the Cabinet room to the Sycamore room, HQ of the Economic Management Council, a body that has no constitutional sanction whatsoever. It is made up of Kenny, Gilmore, Noonan and Brendan Howlin, along with numerous Marks and the occasional marquesa. This “democratic revolution” has produced a new political aristocracy. In order for things to stay the same, they had to change.
The Price of Power: Inside Ireland’s Crisis Coalition, by Pat Leahy, is published by Penguin Ireland, 292pp, £14.99