Second-rate FG failing to hold Government to account

Sat, Oct 22, 2005, 01:00

Drapier: Drapier has been around a long time. In these corridors wisdom drawn from experience is a valuable and increasingly rare commodity.

With such a turnover at the last election, the collective wisdom of the place was sorely depleted and it shows. The Fine Gael front bench was virtually wiped out, and replaced by a handful of youngsters or second-raters who are faltering in their attempt to hold the Government to account.

Discipline is weak, strategy non-existent and despite the buying in of expertise on the press and advisory side, the largest Opposition party is often reduced to tabloid populism, tailored more for shallow media gain than for serious politics. Enda Kenny is a case in point. Deputies' teeth can be heard to grind when he routinely launches into his unconvincing angry mode.

This week was no exception. Political outrage is only effective when one is selective and people can see the integrity of it. Overused, it loses impact. Michael McDowell's retort that the media was dishing out "angry pills" had a ring of truth. Whatever about the public, Enda is overdosing. Pat Rabbitte, because he understands the theory of proportionate response, makes more impact. Less is definitely more when it comes to outrage.

Moving on from performance and personalities to substance; there is nothing like a human tragedy to electrify a political issue. This week, the indefensible death of a man in Monaghan hospital in a monumental cock-up, brought home the crisis of confidence in our hospitals.

After months of hysteria in here and on the airwaves about trolleys and millions wasted on computers, the avoidable death of one man in a county hospital said it all. As with the late Bridget McCole, the issue turned from the general to the specific and overnight transcended the game of politics. An inquiry has been set up by Mary Harney to speedily explain what happened and why.


Drapier has a queasy feeling about the Rossiter case. The death of a 14-year-old boy in Garda custody raises grave questions about the detention of juveniles. Although an inquiry is under way, the row over barristers' fees leaves a bad taste. Imposing a flat rate in such inquiries is all very well, but is it fair that the gardaí and the State can hire the top guns at the market rate when the family of the dead boy are confined to the yellow pack per diem rate for their counsel?

Drapier's hunch is that it's a row not worth having. Value for taxpayers' money in relation to barristers' fees is a contradiction in terms anyway. An equal playing pitch is more important. The sooner McDowell establishes a legal services ombudsman the better. The legal eagles had their chance to win public confidence by self-regulation and they have blown it.


Every now and then there is an opportunity for a debate on the state of the nation provided by the publication of some mundane official report. So it was this week when the fabulously titled Quarterly National Household Survey Second Quarter and the Annual Population and Migrations Estimates were debated. It was cracking stuff with Labour and the Greens giving out yards about "developer-led planning", commuters in packed trains and women allegedly forced into the labour market.

It was bizarre to hear a tirade of contrived negativity about full employment and growth levels unsurpassed in the western world. I suppose they have to give out about something and their focus groups are telling them to bang on about quality of life issues.

There was unanimity on one point; the need to start planning properly for integrating migrants and their families. Not one speaker was resentful of the newcomers, but underlying tensions in communities needed attention.


Question time with Martin Cullen was lively and dominated by Dublin transport. Róisín Shortall said the Minister owed Dublin commuters 182 buses, a fairly specific charge. Cullen, in a robust exchange, said it was a matter for Dublin Bus to plan its own networks and maximise all existing routes. The new fleet, it appears, has increased capacity by 20 per cent.

Tell that to the pale faces on the bus queue Martin. Although he's good on his feet at question time, even conceding, "We're income rich but not public wealth rich" (figure that one out), it's hard to shake off the spectre of the electronic voting machines.


There was murder about veterinary medicines and the EU requirement for prescriptions. All the rural deputies were up in arms but Minister Mary Coughlan has a great handle on these matters and can hold her own against all comers.

Also on the animal front, the word is that despite the best efforts of the Government, the battle is all but lost on retaining the tax exemptions for stallion stud fees. Labour has been calling for an end to the exemption in the misplaced belief that it benefits fat cats. Another example of ideology getting in the way of common sense, in Drapier's view.

The horse breeding industry in Ireland is world class, indigenous, and employs thousands in spin off activities. So another broadside from Brussels is imminent. Small wonder there is little enthusiasm for EU referendums.


From stallions to fish, the Progressive Democrats have stolen a march on the salmon issue. Senator John Dardis, a solid citizen and a keen angler, has played a blinder on this.

His quiet demeanour, brought on by fishing one assumes, should not be underestimated. Having persuaded his party colleagues of the compelling environmental case against drift net salmon fishing, the matter is now a major bone of contention between the two Government parties.

Word is the PDs are determined to end the practice and will take on the vested interests, including the Minister responsible, Pat "the Cope" Gallagher, who is hopelessly compromised by his constituency in Donegal. Angry anglers, if there is such a thing, will be waving their hooks at the soldiers of destiny in Killarney this weekend. The PDs are right on this one. A case of threatened species sticking together?