Sunday Business Post
- Sunday Business Post
Battered Fianna Fáil retains core support
Support is growing for the Lisbon Treaty
- Sunday Business post,
Thanks to FF, we are the sick man of the world
Sunday, April 26, 2009 By Vincent Browne
There are straws in the wind which signal that all is not well in Fianna
Fail. The backing down over the ministerial pensions for sitting TDs and
the long-service allowance suggests there is a concern about the loyalty
That loyalty has been secured - or at least encouraged at the expense of
the public - by the backing-down.
The dismissal of John McGuinness is also a signal that troublemakers
will not be tolerated. McGuinness caused trouble not just by
characterising the October budget as a shambles and by his remarks over
the public service, but by being obstreperous in the Department of
Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in the view of Tánaiste Mary Coughlan.
A further signal was the number and duration of cabinet meetings leading
up to the April mini-budget.
It seems that cabinet ministers insisted on being fully involved this
time - unlike in the lead-up to the October budget and, more
spectacularly, on the night of September 29 last, when Taoiseach Brian
Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, between them, handed over
the deeds of the country to guarantee the banks’ depositors and lenders.
That night, the cabinet was entirely excluded in obvious breach of the
constitutional imperative for the cabinet to act as a collective.
Then there was the jibe at Cowen’s predecessor, Bertie Ahern, in
dismissing his brother from a junior ministry. Noel Ahern was a
competent minister and did well in housing, social exclusion and drugs.
The only ostensible reason for dropping him was to distance this
government from the previous government - a ludicrous exercise, since
almost all of the current ministers were members of that previous
Isn’t there something odd about Fianna Fail in that each of the last
four leaders - Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern and Brian
Cowen - wanted to spurn the legacy of their predecessor?
But then, that is also true of the last three Fine Gael leaders, John
Bruton, Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny.
But to return to the party of government, there is dismay within the
Fianna Fail parliamentary party over Cowen’s performance. The affection
that was there for him in abundance a year ago has ebbed.
There was tolerance for his early mistakes, attributable to his early
days as Taoiseach and the appalling crisis that broke on him and the
But that tolerance, too, has ebbed. How could he - indeed, they - have
devised a budget that, in important symbolic features, has come apart?
And when the scale of the ‘adjustments’ begins to take effect in pay
packets, and in worsening health and educational services, there will be
further unease within the parliamentary party, an unease likely to
become a frenzy with the deeper ‘adjustments’, in terms of more tax
increases and services cuts next December.
The reality is that the continuance of this government in office is an
obstacle to achieving the social solidarity that is needed to rescue us
from the crisis. And that’s not just because of the incompetence of this
government, but also because of its culpability in causing the crisis.
Every time Fianna Fáil ministers respond to questions about the party’s
responsibility for this crisis by a diversionary and protracted exegesis
on the ‘‘global context’’, they forfeit more credibility and public
There is no reason to believe that those who were in part responsible
for causing this crisis are the ones to rescue us from this crisis.
The report of the International Monetary Fund last week was a
devastating commentary on Ireland. It projected that the Irish economy
would contract by 8 per cent this year and by 3 per cent next year - and
that might be on the optimistic side.
Nowhere else in the world is the situation as bleak. The US is projected
to contract by 3.8 per cent this year, and have zero growth next year.
The eurozone is -4.2 per cent for this year and -0.4 per cent next year;
Germany is -5.6 per cent this year and -0.4 per cent next; France -3.0
per cent and -0.4 per cent; Italy -4.4 per cent and -0.4 per cent;
Britain -4.1 per cent and -0.4 per cent; Russia -2.9 per cent and +0.5
per cent; Brazil -1.3 per cent and +2.2 per cent.
Even sub-Saharan Africa is projected to do far better than us: +1.7 per
cent this year, and +3.8 per cent next year.
Britain used to be the ‘sick man of Europe’ a few decades ago. Now
Ireland is not just the sick man of Europe, but the sick man of the
world. We are likely to be a good deal sicker once the banks debacle
hits us, via Nama and the guarantee given on that fateful night of
September 29, 2008.That date will surely become a national day of
mourning, commemorated annually.
Before the December ‘adjustments’, there is likely to be a cabinet
reshuffle, the purpose of which, ostensibly, will be to ‘freshen up’ the
In reality, it will be to shore up Cowen’s position as leader and Taoiseach.
At present, this seems unlikely to work. The cumulative effect of the
disappointed expectations of Cowen, the coming disaster of the local and
European elections, and the renewed public outrage over the December
‘adjustments’ are likely to do in either him or the government (or both)
unless he or the government (or both) are done in before then.
But the political fate of Cowen, and the fate of the government, count
for nothing compared with the devastation that the recklessness of
Fianna Fáil and the PDs is causing, and will cause, to the lives of
millions in this country.