Monday 3 August 2015

Chairman John busy sparking fear amongst friends and foes

John Drennan profiles John McGuinness, Fianna Fail's unique, unloved John the Baptist

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

John McGuinness
John McGuinness

Fianna Fail's lost leader has certainly had a quiet summer.

Surprisingly, the greatest celebrations over the silence of our disappeared one is coming from within Fianna Fail. And before you ask we are not talking about Micheal Martin.

Everyone in Fianna Fail and particularly his avaricious potential successors are very happy about how Micheal is performing.

We are instead referring to John McGuinness who has secured that status courtesy of a series of remarkable triumphs and rows within the PAC.

His achievement in that regard is more surprising than you might think. A myth has built up around the PAC that it has always consisted of zealous political crusaders.

In fact, for much of its time, the Public Accounts Committee has been populated by a set of entirely normal, harmless political jackasses who merely shouted loudly at the powerful without causing any damage at all.

Then, quite by accident and because of the absence of a better and easier alternative, John McGuinness secured the top post.

To put it mildly things have not been the same since.

Sadly, the chairman of the PAC has become as quiet as a Trappist monk after his premature declaration, following the local and European elections, that he would be raising questions about Micheal Martin's leadership.

Fianna Fail, in fairness, was at least consistent in its absolute absence of any desire to raise a single question about the party's 'triumph' in barely improving on its disastrous 2009 local election.

Not asking awkward questions is a Fianna Fail core value.

By contrast, the delight Mr McGuinness takes in this activity has led to more trouble via the upcoming Angela Kearns court case.

The hope, and delight, that this will "finally soften McGuinness's cough" stretches well beyond the ranks of Fianna Fail.

In particular amongst the Coalition there has been much self-satisfied clucking about the evils of a committee chairman over-reaching his powers and going beyond appropriate boundaries.

You might think it odd, but politicians believe it is inappropriate for a Dail Committee to ask too many questions.

However, this is a State that has almost made public-sector incompetence a constitutional right.

And, sadly, the sort of 'democratic revolution' we have experienced to date means such an attitude is not at all curious.

Instead, it is McGuinness, the eternal Fianna Fail black swan, who is the joker in the Leinster House herd.

This status means his presence sparks fear amongst those who should be his political friends in FF and his many political foes in Government.

Some see him as a contrarian; others as a holy fool and like the famous sack of Kilkenny cats that fought until only a tail was left, he likes a scrap . . . particularly with his colleagues.

Ultimately, the reason why McGuinness is one of only three genuinely interesting Fianna Fail politicians goes beyond his many entertaining wars.

It is instead informed by the capacity of this dour political missionary to define, far more eloquently than any of his colleagues, the reasons why the electorate have turned their faces from the conventional political parties.

He has systemically warned that the public believes the inner workings of our 'democracy' consists of an incompetent and self-satisfied autocracy who have cast the citizen "a long way from power and influence".

The abortion furore and our various whistleblower debacles have certainly justified the ongoing claims by McGuinness that the great betrayal of our ruling elite has consisted of its failure to "keep its people safe".

It was language that appeared to belong to the American evangelical school of politics.

Strangely though, it also, despite the American cadences, carries the ring of authenticity. Like a latter-day John the Baptist, McGuinness, who has certainly spent plenty of time in the political desert, comes across as a lonely prophet who believes what he says.

Intriguingly, one of the lower profile but most intently felt of his concerns has consisted of the fate of the Irish whistleblower.

Perhaps the empathy was informed by his own status as Fianna Fail's internal whistleblower before it was as popular and profitable as it became just before the death of Cowen's political career.

It is a measure of the ongoing moral decline of Fianna Fail that McGuinness appears to be unique in voicing a radical Republican language of opposition to the current system.

Despite the grim visage, his is a message from the heart which has articulated the anger of the citizenry at the failure of our indolent State apparatuses to protect them.

By contrast, all Fianna Fail appears to desire is a return to occupancy.

This quality meant, once he survived the furore over the quality of toilet paper he enjoyed during his brief ministerial stint, it began to be said he might even have a tilt at the Fianna Fail crown.

Micheal might be "working extraordinarily hard", but even within Fianna Fail the concern is growing that they are now merely a 'lite-r' version of Fine Gael. Of course, when it came to the leadership, anxious fellows raced around warning the trouble with John is that he is "odd".

Apparently, in the closed club world of Fianna Fail, John is "odd" because he is: ''very dour, very much a sole trader, not one of the lads, stand-offish'' and, well, just difficult.

He also, apparently does not play golf.

Yet the rare sincerity could work against the anxious opponents of McGuinness.

Every reason given as to why Mr McGuinness should not lead Fianna Fail is precisely why a citizenry winnowed into apathy by the state of the party under nice Micheal would find him attractive.

Those who find John "odd" also fret about the likelihood he would go mad in power.

But, outside of noting that, perhaps we need a bit of divine madness in how we are all too politely governed. McGuinness has corralled and controlled the very diverse egos within the PAC political asylum.

Opinion is divided as to whether he is a black swan, a white knight or merely yet another Dail egotist.

In judging him we should remember the time when a fellow called Albert came out of nowhere in a great hurry, cleared out a lot of deadwood and achieved great things.

Wouldn't it be great if for a second time someone would emerge to take on a political class which Mc Guinness has compared to: "nodding dogs in the back window of a car - amiable, decorative, slightly amusing, and useless''.

Sadly, lightning of that radical sort rarely strikes twice in Leinster House.

Fact File

Name: John McGuinness

Age: 59

Place of Birth: Kilkenny

Occupation: McGuinness is a former businessman who was first elected as a TD in 1997.

He secured a high public profile as an unrelenting political opponent of Brian Cowen; particularly after being sacked from the Junior Ministry of Trade and Commerce.

Currently, he is the troubleshooting Chairman of the PAC and the only declared candidate for the leadership of Fianna Fail after Micheal Martin.

Sunday Independent

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