Saturday 22 October 2016

Coalition has handed Fianna Fail the moral high ground

Published 13/06/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the walking rails in the Physiotherapy Room after he opened a new Day Hospital for Care of the Elderly at St. Joseph's Hospital Raheny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the walking rails in the Physiotherapy Room after he opened a new Day Hospital for Care of the Elderly at St. Joseph's Hospital Raheny

SO Fianna Fail today sits proudly and comfortably on the moral high ground, raising serious questions about the probity of an upcoming banking inquiry and about the independence of parliament.

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No. You did not misread the opening words.

This is Fianna Fail, FF, the Soldiers of Destiny. The very same crowd who were in power when the entire banking system collapsed, taking the national economy with it, and who for decades had a vice-like grip on the workings of the Dail and Seanad, but who now speak of "parliamentary independence".

How did Fianna Fail suddenly become the good guys? Well, the short answer is a heady mix on the Fine Gael-Labour side of arrogance, carelessness, poor judgment and maybe an added dash of bad luck.

It is almost precisely a year since the Taoiseach first let the mask slip in the Dail chamber and spoke of the need for this Oireachtas banking inquiry to investigate the "axis of collusion" between elements in Fianna Fail and some in Anglo Irish Bank.

It was not exactly the best signpost for an independent inquiry to tell Irish citizens why they and their children's children must pay back €64bn of bank debts and compound interest.

It allowed the battered Fianna Fail remnant to raise questions about the real intent behind the planned Oireachtas inquiry.

Would it ever be intended that the inquiry would be hearing very unflattering home truths about Fianna Fail in recent times past as the next general election draws near?

Things moved on slowly and many behind the scenes efforts went ahead. Senior Leinster House officials took the unprecedented step of offering private briefings to politicians of all parties on how to avoid any taint of perceived public bias. Other detailed works on logistics about rooms, staff and other resources got under way.

We got to the point where seven TDs on the nine-member committee, headed by the Oireachtas Finance Committee chairman Ciaran Lynch of Labour, were in place. We were just waiting on the choice of the two senators – one from the opposition side and another from the government side.

Then came last week's foul-up. The government side in the Seanad made a mess of things, they did not have the numbers present on the day and their timing was off.

Fianna Fail did what oppositions are supposed to do and took their chance. Senator Marc MacSharry of FF took the government seat, also depriving the government parties of a controlling majority.

Yesterday the Government struck back and chose the less-awful-looking option of putting an additional senator each from Fine Gael and Labour on the committee. We now have 11 committee members and the Government is in the majority.

Cue outrage and competitive rhetoric from the opposition side. But let it pass quickly onwards.

Let's just note that Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fail knows "parliamentary strokes" every bit as well as Eamon Gilmore knows "outraged rhetoric".

So as the pair traded outraged allegations across the chamber, we could declare "politics as usual". And call it a draw. With the dust settled: what's left? Well, this is a genuine win for Fianna Fail largely helped by an own goal by Fine Gael-Labour.

The really sad part is that hopes of getting a decent parliamentary inquiry off the ground have been seriously dented. Both the Dail and Seanad have been demeaned.

Irish Independent

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