Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fine Gael by serious default

And so it finally ends.

This writer usually loathes those who throw out the notion that all politicians and political parties are the same. The idea is the refuge of those who haven't the attention span to immerse themselves in events that will have an impact on their lives. But the longer the campaign went on the more unpalatable all the options have become. They may all assuredly not be the same, but that doesn't mean they can't irk in almost equal measure. The key moment of the campaign actually may end up being the inability of the David McWilliams/Fintan O'Toole to form a coherent group, as this may lead to a Fine Gael overall majority.

Fianna Fail:
Michael Martin has run an impressive campaign, debating rationally and proposing plenty of sensible change. One would almost pine that he isn't leading a radical new party. But the reality is that he was playing naughts and crosses in the back of the state car for the last ten years. The public have been impressed with him: But it's heartening to note that they aren't remotely ready to vote him into government. Re-apply in five years Micheal: Or better yet ten.

Sinn Fein:
Gerry Adams isn't a member of the I.R.A. Nor did he ever join the I.F.A. And it's apparently a smear to point out that no serious historian or commentator believes him: And he also believes the Government's behaviour in recent years regrading the economy is akin to terrorism. You couldn't make it up: Gerry Adams does though.

Labour: For many people Labour's campaign can only be looked through the prism of their linkage with trade unionism. Eamon Gilmore hadn't the gumption to comment on the Croke Park agreement before the unions had voted on it. Members of ICTU Youth were prominent at Labour's election launch. The message was hammered home in late 2009 that a concerted effort was being made to divide public and private. But the lean to Fine Gael, throughout the campaign, despite their manifold faults, indicates that many in the private sector still cast a jaundiced eye at Labour despite their overall moderate policy agenda. Plus Labour's bizarre profligate use of the word 'family' in the last days of the campaign would find favour with the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

United Left Alliance:
Whatever you think about their far left policies one issue hasn't been commented on sufficiently. That is even if you wished to implement left wing policies in Ireland, you can't as you would then be unable to raise money from abroad to pay our way. Thus if you want Ireland to be red, you would really be best to be storming a Bastille on the continent trying to ferment International revolution.

They won't be going away you know. The Green agenda was prominent in warning us about the insanity of over-development in the naughties. We paid them no heed and now we're out to get them for their, admittedly, mistaken decision to enter government. Yet do we really think a Dail without Eamon Ryan would be a better thing?

Fine Gael:
All in all a supremely oily, controlled Fianna Failesque campaign. Enda Kenny dodged the awkward squad interviewers outside of R.T.E. ( Vincent Browne, Matt Cooper ) When he did debate he did it with all the naturalness of an automaton. They want to bring back stag hunting. They will promise anything to the farming community. If you feel you have no choice but to vote for them, seeing Lucinda Crieghton, Alan Shatter, Peter Matthews, Michael Ring etc on your ballot paper may be the final straw. It really will be hold the nose time!

Friday, February 4, 2011

general election campaign so far

So how have all the crew been getting on:

Fianna Fail- This writer went on to the Fianna Fail website yesterday to do a head count of the number of candidates the natural party of government were running. Aside from noting that a former drinking buddy in Law School ( not Brian Cowen ) was running for the party, I came to a tot in the high 70's. In other words, and this may come as a shock to some of you, Fianna Fail aren't running enough candidates to win an overall majority. We keep being told by commentators that anything could happen ( the 1-2 on offer of a Fine Gael/lab government a couple of weeks ago was an absolute steal ) but a repeat of 1977 isn't one of the eventualities.

So thus it's curious that Micheal Martin keeps talking about the incompatibilities between Labour and Fine Gael. It would be nice if he would get around soon to telling us who his party would be compatible with. Or could it be that they have no interest and expectation of being in government. The leader claims to want a new style of election campaigning where parties deal honestly with the issues. Kudos to the Jimmy-Barry Murphy impersonator if it's true, but it's a little like Jeremy Clarkson announcing that he's seen the error of his ways and looks forward to seeing everyone on public transport.

Fine Gael: Easily the most significant blue shirt related matter so far has been the demise of the nascent New Democracy movement which could have been a serious threat. Now many centre-right voters will likely half-heartedly plump for Fine Gael for the lack of any real choice. They might though have to close their eyes and ears to Fine Gael candidates in their constituency to prevent being assailed by cant and cliche. The person we do want to hear is Enda Kenny, especially if he ever makes it to a debate that isn't diluted from being over populated. It's sadly obvious that the man who will be Taoiseach not only is reticent to debate the leaders of the other two main parties, but also to debate under the ambit of a 'loose cannon' such as Vincent Browne.

Labour: The Labour think tank would likely be your only men if you were crossing the road with them. Look left, look right, look left again. All very safe cross code. Their heads must be spinning. There's also an element of good cop bad cop about it. One minute Eamonn Gilmore in fine Brian Cowen tradition shouts and roars that Home Rule will hold sway over Rome/Frankfurt rule: The next morning Ruairi Quinn emerges to calm down the rational middle class horses.

Far Left: Richard Boyd Barrett was torn apart on his plan to reduce the deficit the other night by Vincent Browne. A very noble/contrary thing for Browne to do considering he admitted voting for Boyd Barrett in the last election. Barrett's proposal for a wealth tax will likely bring in nowhere like the 6 billion that he envisages, bar perhaps the united Left go the whole hog and implement a wealth confiscation from the idle rich. Since charity begins at home perhaps Jeremy Irons might get the ball rolling for the Dun Laoighre candidate.

The other main news story in recent days ( well The Irish Sun might disagree in light of their 'transsexual in Trinity' lead story ) was The Supreme Court decision to approve developer Paddy McKillen's appeal to keep his property out of NAMA. This reflects very poorly on Attorney General Paul Gallagher. Guiding the NAMA ship very much became Gallagher's baby at the same time that he seemed to be advising the Government that progressive reform in many other areas would be unconstitutional.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Taoiseach and the smartest guys in the room!

There is a notion abroad that it was very curious that An Taoiseach Brian Cowen didn't ask Seanie Fitzpatrick on the golf course in the summer of 2008 what the latest situation was with the financial problems of Anglo Irish Bank. But this columnist doesn't feel the Taoiseach's lack of interest was that surprising: Let me explain.

A normal lowly Fianna Fail politician has two ambitions: To get elected to the Dail, and then to get re-elected. A select group have more grand ambitions: To become Taoiseach and to remain in that office. So it is naive to believe that Fianna Fail leaders would be that concerned with esoteric matters that would be outside their purview, like the state of health of one of the country's financial institutions. About five years ago the Fianna Fail top brass would doubtless have been proud of their role in the economic prosperity that they presided over. But around that time they had effectively ceded their role in governing the economy to those who were the 'smartest guys in the room'. ( as the boyo's in Enron were called ) If the Financial Regulator and the Governor of the Central Bank were lax in their roles policing big business, it was because they got their lead from the cabinet. Ministers had become so in thrall to the Seanie Fitzpatricks of this world, partly because a group consisting of teachers and solicitors naturally didn't feel they were in a position to rein in bankers about banking.

Apparently when meeting members of the public during his tenure, one of Bertie Ahern's stock phrases was to proclaim; 'how's the hard working man'. For the former Taoiseach it wasn't necessarily important what one was hard working at. Indeed those egghead types who would have been into long-term planning likely wouldn't have been Bertie's cup of tea: As opposed to those who were keeping the show on the road by building houses with borrowed money that in actuality didn't exist. His successor Brian Cowen is not an identikit politician. He didn't share Bertie's ravenous desire to be Taoiseach for instance. But he found himself in the top job because he was popular in the Dail Bar and had never offended any of his superiors. It also seemingly never perturbed him that he mightn't be qualified for the job. As a stalwart member of the party, steeped in it since a child, he would have been honoured to keep the hamster wheel rolling. Although it may seem bizarre, one gets the impression that he wanted as easy a life as possible. Certainly the Government has seemed behind the eight ball throughout the crisis, as if they couldn't believe their bad luck and just hoped the misery could be wished away. In this context it wouldn't be strange that Brian Cowen wouldn't have quizzed the head of Anglo-Irish Bank in 2008. He simply didn't want to know if there was bad news, just as a student who has done a poor exam mightn't be in a rush to get the result.

Our economic calamity has occurred because our leaders had no interest in long term planning. They were willing to sub-contract their responsibility to civil servants who kept their heads down and to bankers and developers. The ironic thing about the Fianna Fail led governments in the last 13 years was that they only took the long view in regard to events outside the jurisdiction, i.e the northern peace process. Bertie Ahern withstood insult both from the media and Unionist politicians, as well as sidelining moderate parties, in order to effect a settlement that could stand long term. But in the south everything was done on the hoof and all parties were placated in the short term. The bubble allowed new elites to emerge, and Brian Cowen wasn't going to discommode them on the golf course in July 2008.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fintan O' Toole reached out to us this week. He pleaded that all should consider attending the I.C.T.U march on Saturday, even if we didn't care much for the Unions: To cut to the chase Fintan; no sale. Put simply it is completely naive to think that the union leadership wouldn't use a huge turnout as ammunition for its only real goal, which is to defend the pay and conditions of its members, especially those in the public sector. In these crisis times unions have been in the vanguard of those appealing for radical change in society. That is at least partly polemical, as maintaining the privileged pensions and permanency of employment of middle income people in the public sector was scarcely a banner under which James Connolly would have wished to march. Yet S.I.P.T.U was one of the prime movers in the recent gathering at the R.D.S that attempted to advocate that there was a better way to resolve the economic calamity. It was curious then to hear one of their representatives Paul Bell on Newstalk with very impermeable priorities. Questioned as to the errors made in over staffing when the H.S.E was set up in 2004, Bell replied that it was his unions job to defend the interests of their members. So waste and profligacy are quickly prioritised when interests clash. On R.T.E in recent days S.I.P.T.U economist Paul Sweeney also evinced a non-holistic approach when disagreeing with Liam Griffin. When the noted hotelier made the arguable case that registered agreements led to casual staff being paid far too much on weekends, Sweeney glibly disregarded the thesis on the basis that the issue didn't bear any discussion when there were more malign fish to fry.

But this is fairly typical of the pronouncements of union spokespeople and their media acolytes like Fintan O' Toole. Indeed, as an aside, it was to some degree comical that comments were made that the Irish Times journalist should set up a political party in the wake of his latest book. Although the Irish Times Deputy Editor's current work contains many good ideas to reform the political system, it seems fanciful that he would do other than to try and influence the Labour Party/Union alliance from the outside. For he along with Sweeney and Bell are just as much members of an unreconstructed tribe as parish pump members of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Perhaps the distinguished journalist thinks that the public sector is perfect. But if he doesn't any of his writings about the subject ( except when talking about the elite public servants ) only paint them in a favourable light in comparative terms. It has also been tittersome recently to hear David Begg blast 'right-wing economists' declaring that their views are no longer worth considering. This is presumably the same David Begg who proclaimed as recently as two years ago, that a public sector pay increase was affordable.

Although the Croke Park agreement is safe for now, and for the record this blogger doesn't necessarily think it should be torn up, the latest I.C.T.U march is just another step in 'the game' that the unions play to maintain their place in the hegemony. It may seem fantastical now, but it's easy to forget that this time last year the unions were fighting tooth and nail against any cut in pay in the public sector. The left in Ireland likes to claim periodically that public discourse is completely tilted towards the right. They partly point towards the often intemperate rantings of such as The Daily Mail and The Irish Independent to prove their point. Yet in general the rhetoric of 2009 was very far from skewed against the public sector argument. How many times did we hear the outlandish theory that any rift between public and private amongst the populace was organised by malign forces in Government. The woeful administration we have had in recent years was capable of many things, but claims that they could orchestrate tension on The Frontline and Liveline, not to mention around people's dinner tables was conspiracy on an Oliver Stone-like scale. For the truth was that the unions played an absolute blinder with the cards they were dealt last autumn. The process was unfailingly portrayed as being the doing down of patriotic public servants at the expense of the profligate elites. Indeed this writer always thought it fascinating that the public sector managed to compare their lot to bankers and developers rather than their private sector equivalents. Why exactly was it just that wage increases awarded in an era the left itself declared unsustainable should be left untouched. The fact that not even their opponents ever argued that a reduction in public sector wages was actually the morally correct thing to do showed how 'the game' was so skilfully played.

And the next step occurs on Saturday. Those who have declared they weren't part of the problem will righteously march. Maybe even some of the acting community still doing ads in the media for the banks will be in attendance. Being morally pure post-Celtic Tiger is a tricky business. A notion many of us, who would love to protest, but not under a union banner, would, I suspect, attest to.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Well we are where we are. And I think it's important to point that out. It's also important to point out that a little piece of this writer dies every time a Government minister starts a sentence with that particular soundbite. It is perhaps an apt commentary of this administration in microcosm that they have to speak in such a controlled and handled way. One of the most astonishing aspects of recent times ( and, as you can imagine, that comes against pretty stiff competition ) has been that Brian Cowen continues to speak in gobbledygook. Surely his P.R people would at the very least have implored him to vent plainly as if he was in the Brewery Tap pub in Tullamore . Perhaps the answer to this riddle, although Eoghan Haris puts it down to shyness, is that the Taoiseach persists with the jargon because any return to plain speaking would inevitably lead to him having to deal with his terrible failings front and centre. So with the leader of our country still 'on ( gobbledygook ) message', and completely unwilling to face the calamity, the Government blunders on hoping against hope that there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When examining Fianna Fail strategy this writer is reminded of his own carry-on in Primary School. I didn't do my homework so my put-upon teacher requested that my homework for that night be signed by my mother: My reaction was to take the easy option, not do the homework again adding further to the snowball. Similarly our leaders bluster on like Mr Micawber.

For there is a lot at stake here. Principally the election after next, which, and you couldn't make this up, could be in 2016. If Fianna Fail keep the head down, avoid all metaphorical 'truth and reconciliation committees' then history tells us that the usual amnesia amongst the electorate will kick in and the soldiers of destiny will re-enter their Faustian pact with the electorate. An intriguing hint as to this alliance was given by Charlie McCreevey in the TV3 series 'Taoiseach' broadcast earlier this year. Answering the charge that he had been spendthrift in his spell as Minister for Finance, Kildare's finest rebutted by declaring that the Irish people had been promised that they would get the fruits of progress as pay back for the pain that had been endured in the '70's and '80's. Thus a political philosophy is laid bare: Hang those who naively think that policy should be made in a prudent manner based on current conditions. The understanding Fianna Fail have reached with their electorate is that in exchange for politicians being available night noon and day to sort out the medical card the politicians have to provide the sun moon and stars on occasion. The absence of a T.D in Donegal South-West in recent times is a good example of the place of politicians in the firmament. More than one Government representative, most recently Martin Manseargh , played down the issue by declaring that Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher was, by virtue of being an M.E.P, still in situ . In other words why do you need a T.D when the chieftain is still in his wig-wam. For in Ireland you don't necessarily wield power by being elected: You wield it by being elected, in one form of another, for long enough that you become anointed, rather like a mafioso boss.

So are we close to being out of this mess. Well no judging by the current condition in the body politic. Vincent Browne rolls his eyes when he notes that Fianna Fail are still getting about 20% in opinion polls. But the fact that Browne was ( latterly ) very friendly with Charles Haughey and so admiring of aspects of Bertie Ahern's personality indicates how ingrained some sympathy for Fianna Fail is. Kevin Myers stated that he wished no ill for any man more than Bertie when he resigned, yet is now comparing our attitude to Fianna Fail to that of a child to an alcoholic mother. It was a terrific analogy as the vast majority of Irish people have family and close friends who vote for Fianna Fail. People we admire and don't want to fall out with. But we are going nowhere as a society unless we recognise that tarrying with the Mr. Hyde side of our personality will only lead us to repeating the same mistakes. The actions of the eccentric Vincent Keaney recently in dancing on Charles Haughey's grave were objectionable. But unless we tramp the dirt firmly down on Fianna Fail firmly after the next election we can't begin to face our problems in any satisfactory way. The chances of that happening? Well if you want a good example of how skewed thinking in society can be look at Morgan Kelly's latest treatise in the Irish Times last week. Amidst all the apocalyptic talk about the economy he dropped in the little pearl that Fine Gael/Labour's economic record in Government has been worse than Fianna Fail. When someone who bravely called it correctly on the 'Celtic Tiger' is capable of such gibberish you really do throw your hands up in despair.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

drugs in sport! does it need to take a chill pill

a presenter on newstalk declared yesterday that love or hate roy keane, you have to admit he's a good manager. this blogger would have thought it was too early to make that pronouncement, but on the love/hate issue, after being a former vitriolic critic, i'm beginning to respect the man.

to backtrack, keane didn't get my back up because of all that "traitor" guff. it was more that the public impression of him, even amongst many of his detectors, seemed skewed. there is a curious
habit in our society to link outspokenness and truthfulness. as if, just because you shout your mouth off about everything under the sun, you couldn't also be telling porkies intermittently. to my eyes keane was a quasi prima donna, who wanted everything his own way and desired everyone to be a clone of him, and who threatened to throw his toys out of the pram if he didn't get his way. now in management keane seems a much more placid figure, understanding of others, ( particularly referees ) and newly endowed, by way of a sun holiday on a road near damascus, that there's more than one way to skin a cat. his behaviour can be seen in stark contrast to his former master alex ferguson & arsene wenger who give the disturbing instruction to formative minds, that an essential part of success is to roar and bawl like man-children at anyone who deigns to cross you.

irish journalist joe humphries has recently published a book in which he laments how seriously sport is viewed in the modern world. after reading some of the reviews some of his criticisms seem a tad po-faced and hyperbolic. however for those of us, in this culture, who have our media choc a bloc with the immature ravings of successful football managers, it's best to pause occasionally and wonder does it have to be this way, and does joe humphries have a point?

the devil's music ( the honky version )

hilarious little bit in village magazine recently by harry browne about music programmes on lyric fm. whilst praising ( rightly ) the jk ensemble, harry had a dig at gay byrne's sunday serenade. gay's main fault was, wait for it, playing jazz that was, well, too white. gay unsuprisingly, being a man of advancing years never took "political correctness 101" which browne has obviously passed with flying colours.

i look forward, in the interests of balance, to browne's cut at d.j's on black u.s stations for not playing enough britpop!