Saturday 4 July 2015

The fateful day when Tanaiste signed his own death warrant

John Cooney

Published 26/05/2007 | 00:00

MICHAEL McDowell signed his political death warrant last September when he saved Bertie Ahern at the height of the controversy over his personal finances.

In the light of the Taoiseach's victory in achieving a record third term as head of government, the nation should be expressing its gratitude to the PD leader rather than sentencing him to damnation. Instead, it has given his P45 to one of the intellectual giants ever to dominate the Dail chamber and the national airwaves.

That McDowell's career in government as Tanaiste is over is partly of his own making as he courted controversy to such a fevered extent that he became the most unpopular political leader in the country.

The Minister for Justice alienated not only the gardai but disappointed all sections of society by his failure to implement the biggest police and judicial reform in the history of the State - one that he boasted would be his memorial.

A compulsive attention-seeker, he had too much to say on every subject. He became a national turn-off whenever he spoke in public. But journalists will miss his departure. He was a reporter's dream. He was not short of a quote. He was good company. He was even likeable.

He was the Peter Pan of Irish politics who never grew in political maturity as he produced utopia upon utopia as if he was a barman pouring pints on a bank holiday weekend.

Known as "the Mad Mullah", he was always in fights. He was a doughty pugilist, with a right-hand punch to match Pat Rabbitte's left fist.

And he could take the blows - as he showed in abundance when he lost his Dublin South-East in 1997.

Not only did he make a comeback after a period of petulant retreat to the Four Courts, he rewarded his leader Mary Harney by taking her job as the PD's chief spear carrier and by stripping her of her Tanaiste's role as Bertie's confidant.

This was conduct unbecoming, especially for a PD leader.

After all, it was the combination of Desmond O'Malley and Mary Harney that created the PDs over 20 years ago to break the mould of Irish politics.

But, after sharing with other PD founders a hatred of Haughey, it was his desertion from the core PD principle of being the watchdog on Fianna Fail that ensured his demise with the PDs' true believers.

With McDowell's defeat, Mary Harney will be tempted to wind up the PDs and return to Fianna Fail. And the poor who became poorer in the PD era will toast the passing of the party's biggest ideologue.

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