Kenny eerily emulates Ahern in undercutting his Ministers

Opinion: There is now a worry that the Coalition could make decisions based on short-term political considerations

The Taoiseach has undercut Pat Rabbitte and contributed to confusion on the pylons issue. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The Taoiseach has undercut Pat Rabbitte and contributed to confusion on the pylons issue. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Sun, Feb 2, 2014, 00:01

The Taoiseach’s handling of the pylons issue during the week has made a politically tricky situation even worse and delayed a vital piece of infrastructural development.

More importantly, the weak-kneed response to the anti-pylon campaigns has raised the worrying prospect that, after governing decisively for three years, the Coalition could be on the slippery slope to making decisions based on short-term political considerations.

One of the reasons the country went off the rails during the Celtic Tiger period was Bertie Ahern’s steady appeasement of interest groups who threatened to cause trouble. Politically Ahern was the most successful Irish political leader since Éamon de Valera, but his legacy was an economic disaster which had its roots in the policy of buying off potential opposition. This was often achieved by undermining the decisions taken by ministers.

Kenny and his colleagues did have to take some account of the scale of the opposition to EirGrid’s pylon plans. The establishment of an expert commission to review the arguments about pylons in Munster and Connacht was a sensible response which was at least partly prompted by local and European elections in May.

However, the way in which the Taoiseach intervened to get the North-South interconnector brought into the scope of the commission established by Pat Rabbitte, after the Minister himself had ruled out such a development, was eerily reminiscent of the Ahern approach to difficult issues.

It seems the issue was thrashed out between Kenny, Rabbitte and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore last Tuesday morning before the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Agreement was reached that the North-South interconnector project, which has been in development for the past eight years, would not be included in the review as international experts had already conducted an inquiry into the costs and the merits of overground versus underground cables.

High-voltage cables
The Cabinet went ahead and endorsed the plan put forward by Rabbitte to set up a commission, chaired by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, to look at the merits of putting the high-voltage cables in Munster and Connacht underground or overground.

All was fine until Kenny met Fine Gael TDs from the Border region that evening and gave them to understand that the North-South interconnector would be included. In the Dáil the following day he declared he would “like the commission to have its remit extended in order that the North-South project can be analysed in the same way as, and on an equal footing with, those relating to all other areas of the country”.

He effectively cut the ground from under Rabbitte and created confusion about the commission’s remit.

If Kenny was trying to get the issue off the agenda for the local and European elections he has probably only succeeded in making things worse.

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