Monday 26 September 2016

This weak Cabinet is the last sting of a wasp that will be dead before long

Published 07/05/2016 | 02:30

'If Kenny had stepped aside and Fine Gael had really put it up to Fianna Fáil to form a government ... then the Soldiers of Destiny would have had to step up to the plate' Photo: RollingNews.ie/Photocall Ireland
'If Kenny had stepped aside and Fine Gael had really put it up to Fianna Fáil to form a government ... then the Soldiers of Destiny would have had to step up to the plate' Photo: RollingNews.ie/Photocall Ireland

I suppose the thinking was that after waiting for 70 days we were supposed to go down on bended knee in gratitude at finally seeing white smoke over Leinster House.

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Well I'm sorry, but I don't see it that way. What has been delivered to us is the weakest Government in the history of the State. And in terms of Cabinet selection, I would regard Taoiseach Enda Kenny's move as the last sting of a dying wasp.

My sources are in little doubt that a party poll would put Kenny a distant third behind either Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar in the popularity stakes.

Based on all that has happened in the last few months and despite Kenny becoming the first leader in the party's history to gain a successive term in office, I would predict that the most the Taoiseach can hope for is a dignified exit after one year in office.

Some have already called it an "apple crumble Government" - with a generous dollop of fudge for good measure. Most things these days are said to be disposable, with a degree of built-in obsolescence, so that they must be replaced - that is how the world turns.

But the business of governance, the decisions that direct matters of State and which directly impinge on people's lives, cannot be conducted in this way.

However, one has to look at the wider implications for the country of Kenny clinging to power. His botched handling of the election and his catastrophic error in failing to call an election back in November left him in a hopelessly compromised position as leader. The voters clearly gave their answer to his "keep the recovery going" platform.

There was an opportunity to cross a Rubicon in Irish politics. If Kenny had stepped aside and Fine Gael had really put it up to Fianna Fáil to form a government, challenging them to either put Ireland first or side with the naysayers, like the Shinners and the anti-everything brigade, then the Soldiers of Destiny would have had to step up to the plate. By staying on, Kenny made it so much easier for Micheál Martin to walk away. Martin could claim that his old adversary had been rejected by the voters, so why should he resuscitate a flatlining career? At a stroke, Kenny was left in the wilderness with no alternative but to broker whatever deals he could with any Independent willing to add their colours to the patchwork quilt that this Government will become.

As the time ticked away - and facing the prospect of having to go to the country again - many of the Independents upped the ante.

On paper, the price of their support was whittled down from an original estimate of about €13bn to about €3bn. Not a bad deal, you might say.

But that is only part of the story - the fact is they have wrung enormous concessions in a manner that Frank Hall's Ballymagash councillors could only dream of.

Just look at the trade-off in terms of Cabinet seats. Look at the faces and levels of experience around the Cabinet table - all in the name of political expedience.

The parish pump has been taken from the parochial square and been transported to the very centre of Leinster House.

Despite stepping over the threshold of history, Enda Kenny did not look like a man happy with his lot yesterday.

And you don't have to ask why. All Fianna Fáil is required to do now is to set the timer for when they want to implode this all-too-shaky edifice.

It's true that Kenny has taken over the reins of the chariot of State, but the horse whisperers in Fianna Fáil will be able to control in which direction it goes.

This is not a good outcome for democracy. There are too many obstacles in the way and there are too many threats - at home and internationally - to imagine that this Government can be anything other than short-lived.

With problems bubbling up in teaching, the transport sector and health, never mind the constant rumblings in the public sector, where pay rises are already ballooning, any sign of weakness at all will be seized upon and exploited ruthlessly.

Given the scale of the crises that lie ahead, we need more than a ramshackle Government that can be swayed any way Fianna Fáil chooses. No doubt it can limp along, held together by 'Hail Mary' hopes and episodic bouts of goodwill in the national interest, but, as I have outlined in these columns before, political evolution did not end with the election of the 32nd Dáil.

Fianna Fáil will go some way towards consensus - then its inner Tasmanian devil will resurface. Some time at the end of 2017, or by June 2018 at the latest, it will pounce again and Darwinian survival of the fittest will decide the day.

Meanwhile, to some other pressing matters. I am eagerly anticipating the testimony of the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, at the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness next Tuesday.

To date, the strategy of holding firesales of residential property assets, which are swooped on by foreign vulture funds, with massive writedowns on the loan books, has resulted in a situation where state agencies have to try to buy back some of the same properties to meet the deficit in the housing supply.

Some 90,000 Irish loans are now owned by foreign investors, including 15,000 mortgages previously held by Irish Nationwide.

An estimated 90pc of Nama's asset disposals ended up with US firms, such as Goldman Sachs, CarVal, Blackstone, Cerberus and LoneStar. We must distinguish between those here for quick mega-profits and those investing for the long term - for example, residential developer Hines plans to build 3,800 house units at Cherrywood, while Kennedy Wilson's plans for apartment block developments will also be beneficial.

Irish Independent

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