And That Completes The Set

garret-fitzgerald1
The Way We Were

And that completes the set. Now there are no honest politicians left at all.

Maybe I exaggerate a trifle, but Garret Fitzgerald did seem different. Even though he led a right-of-centre party, even though he could give the impression of being confused and ineffectual, even though he didn’t achieve much of what he set out to, he was the greatest leader that Ireland has had in my memory. There was never any doubt that Garret’s motivation was not personal power, status or wealth. He wasn’t there to be liked by his coterie or cheered by the the masses. He was there to do something about the mess the country was in.

He did that, and he was still liked anyway. Though the sobriquet ‘Garret The Good’ was intended to lampoon his earnestness, no one doubted that it was true. This was a good man in politics. A man who did more than anyone to free Ireland from religious domination, who first dared to attempt what finally bore fruit as the Peace Process. That rarest of things, an intellectual in a leadership role.

And in 1987, the voters of Ireland decided that they would actually prefer to be ruled by Charles Haughey. So perhaps we deserve all that has come since.

First Concrete Impressions

Exit polls are the snacks you shouldn’t eat between meals, but if you place any credence in them then Fianna Fáil are about to have the worst day in their party’s history.

The big winners will be… Independents. Independents would have overtaken the Fianna Fáil party to become the third-largest political grouping.

As the counts begin to come in, one very hopeful trend emerging: The fall of dynasties. Names like Haughey, like Flynn, will no longer be appearing in the Dáil. High time.

Major trends: In Dublin, Fianna Fáil voters switching to Labour, outside Dublin they’re switching to Fine Gael.

Left/right, urban/rural axis seems to be slowly taking place of old ‘civil war’ one?

Interesting-but-weird: Transfers from Sinn Féin going to Fine Gael. Again quite contrary to historical loyalty patterns.

Fun: A Christian Solidarity Party candidate (read: far right) very upset that his party logo didn’t appear on the ballot paper, and was replaced with what he describes as a ‘picture of nuts’.

Pleasantly Batshit

O'Keefe CartoonI love it when they don’t care anymore. Now that Ned O’Keefe has resigned from politics, he can tell us what he really thinks. And over what one might be forgiven for suspecting may have been a drink or four, he gave his candid opinions about the recent government – of which he was a supporter – to Cork paper The Evening Echo:

“The situation has become so bad that an Army coup is a real possibility.”

Wait, what?

“Our political system is going to fail further. The two Brians have made a right mess of the country and I see the real possibility of an Army coup.”

O… K. Does the man with two Brians realise we don’t actually have a lot of army? We’ll have to rent.

“People thought I was mad with all the things I have predicted through the years, but I foresaw the economy collapsing due to lax regulation on building housing estates and unwanted shopping centres.”

Shopping centres. Well he’s right if he’s saying that they were a symptom of the failure rather than the cause. I’m just not sure he is. But then a weirder direction:

“So what if Charlie liked nice women and a few extra nice shirts? He was the best leader we ever had.”

So our problems have nothing to do with corruption. It’s just young politicians these days. They don’t know how to be corrupt with style.

Cowen Collapses Into Black Hole

This appears to be what happened: Several cabinet ministers did not want to run in the election – particularly once they knew they’d be doing it with Brian Cowen as leader. So he wanted to replace them with fresh new faces, presumably in the hope that voters would fool themselves into thinking they weren’t looking at the same old Fianna Fáil.

The Greens were less than happy with what they perceived as the conversion of the cabinet into an electoral window display. They said they would pull out of government rather than accept the appointments. As that would precipitate an election, Cowen instead shared the portfolios out among the remaining cabinet members, and finally chose the election date – March 11th – in the hope that this would stay the Greens’ hand. (We’ll see.) His backbenchers meanwhile were busy explaining to the press that they wouldn’t have accepted cabinet posts anyway. They now perceive that their best hope of holding onto their seats lies in distancing themselves from Cowen as far and as quickly as possible.

So Cowen’s attempt to assert his authority and remain leader has unravelled. If there is any surprising part, it’s that the man who is inexorably steering his party into its greatest election defeat ever thought he had any authority to assert. No doubt he sees himself not as the man responsible for his country’s woes, but as the man to lead us out of them. The problem is though, that as the Taoiseach who gave us the ruinous blanket bank guarantee and Minister for Finance throughout most of the economy-wrecking property bubble, he is the man most responsible for his country’s woes.

At least, of those still around. Which isn’t quite fair on him of course. More of the blame for the bubble belongs to his predecessor Bertie Ahern, just as responsibility for the party’s corruption under Ahern really belongs more to his predecessor. (It’s easy to imagine that the failures of modern Fianna Fáil can be traced back to character flaws in DeValera himself; flaws which were minor then but have been cultured within the party over decades.) Though this might as well be Cowen’s political epitaph, his going makes little difference. The leader is just the bit stuck on the front. The problem with Fianna Fáil – and of the wider political culture – go right to the roots and require far more thorough changes than one of mere leadership.

The coming election is the first real hope we have ever had of that change.

 

  1. Micháel Martin looks decent and honest and innocent? Remember, we thought that about Bertie Ahern once.

We Name the Mystery TD!

Rumours were flying at the time that a FF politician had received a secret payment of over a million from someone in business, but libel laws prevented us from naming him. I think it is safe to say, 15 years later, that the person concerned was a certain Charles J. Haughey.

I’m going to do it! I’m going to name the mystery Fianna Fáil TD! Yes, in print, right here – and I don’t care if they sue!

I name him Edna. It’s a nice name, no? Edna the mystery TD.

Our libel laws are such fun. We’re only talking about rumours here, but you can’t report what the rumours are – even if you add that personally you disbelieve them. They’ve happily said on radio that the name of a “very prominent Fianna Fáil TD” is being bandied around. To this we can add the fact that we are, presumably, talking about a millionaire here – unless he spent the lot. But you can’t say “so obviously they mean Edna.”

It’s getting lovely and baroque. People are not just denying that this or that person received cash, they’re denying that they’ve even heard rumours that this or that person did or did not receive cash. Allegedly. You’ve got to be careful in print. This is because, you see, the printed word has authority.

Bollocks. The big difference between slander and libel is that if you just say something you can turn around and deny you ever did. If you set it in type and distribute several thousand signed copies, you’re digging your own grave.

And you definitely can’t use the word ‘corruption’. People can give as much money as they like to other people, even politicians. They’ve a right to. And they can do it in secret if they wish, and they don’t need to ask for a thing in return. People often give you cash for no reason whatsoever, don’t they? There’s absolutely no grounds to assert that these donations represent any distortion of the democratic system, just because some people have more money than others and they’re kind enough to give it to the people who make the laws. It’s necessary for democracy, if we want well-run, efficient political parties. I hope that makes everything clear.

Or put it another way: “Don’t sue me.”

Just a second… They can only sue you if you’ve got something to lose. And I, am completely flat broke. In fact I owe a bit to the revenue commissioners, which is actually extra insurance. The tax man gets first shout in bankruptcy cases, so even the property I own (a portable stereo and four shelves of books) wouldn’t go to anyone who sued me.

Prison? Yeah, I could end up in jail I suppose. But three square meals a day, regular sleep and no pubs is just what the doctor ordered for me right now. I mean literally. He said if somebody else had done to my body what I’d done to it myself, they could be charged with assault.

So I’m sue-proof, I can say any damn thing I like! Great. It’s about time it was said out loud, once and for all, that [CENSORED].

Oh yeah, the paper’s still got something to lose, I forgot that. This is a problem. But I’m a publishing company now, (more on this next week), so maybe I should run off a few thousand copies and distribute them personally. That’d be a heroic act. I can just see myself handing out these bits of paper bearing the huge, dark secret.

And everybody will say “But I knew that”, and I’ll have to explain that by writing down something everybody knows on a piece of paper, I’ve achieved a great moral victory at huge risk to myself. And they’ll look at me like I was very strange.

As I write, Bertie Ahern is on the radio arguing – somehow – that the alternative to political donations is dictatorship. Jesus… Okay, okay, please don’t declare a dictatorship. We’ll do anything. How much do you want?