John Drennan: The party's over for FF -- even with no election
Two brave individuals from within the ranks have shown the beaten soldiers their destiny, says John Drennan
Published 07/11/2010 | 05:00
Predictions about the destruction of Fianna Fail are becoming like the bond rates for Irish debt. Just when you think the party is about to set a new record they fall even farther. In our guide to the next election we went further than any other commentator and suggested FF would lose 36 seats.
Though they might not believe it, we were being optimistic, for the slightest electoral default will cost this political equivalent of a sub- prime mortgage a further 20 TDs. This reality did not stop a party hellbent on self-destruction from setting new records in the field of political stupidity last week.
Over five politically wretched days it was revealed that FF, in collusion with the Greens, is prepared to undermine the Constitution and hide the fiscal truth from the people in order to maintain its grip on power.
Amidst all of this anomie, however, two brave individuals may have lit the fuse that will see FF soon experiencing the same fate as Carthage.
Even before the publication of The House Always Wins by John McGuinness it was becoming increasingly difficult to view Brian Cowen with anything other than undiluted contempt.
For a while this might have been mingled with some degree of pity, for, like others who share his fatal weakness, Cowen is a skilful manipulator. In our case the spin has been one of Cowen, the decent caring patriot, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the self- created disaster he is now dealing with.
All this tat is ripped away by one scene in The House Always Wins, which describes what happened when McGuinness, who had been making waves as the vice-chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was summoned to a meeting with Cowen and Bertie Ahern.
In the book McGuinness details how Ahern sat silently as Cowen, who has delivered a couple of utterly unoriginal but much-praised speeches about the need for public sector reform, delivered a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse at McGuinness over his cheek in annoying our mandarins and trade union barons with straight questions. Apparently the meeting began with a considered bellow of "What the f*** are you at?" and it didn't get any better.
Sometimes small moments capture the essence of a man's life. We know all too well that Cowen has always been the mandarins' lap dog, the bankers' poodle and the builders' little pet.
However, the vignette from The House Always Wins provides us with a private unveiling of Cowen as a lazy political coward without any moral centre who only waves the big stick when told to do so by his various masters.
It is bad enough that we have a Taoiseach with a big bark and tiny, under-developed balls. What is even more depressing is the coarse contempt this unctuous servant of a venal caste of civil service mandarins and trade union barons has for the citizens he theoretically serves and the TDs he leads.
Happily, McGuinness was not the only patriotic FF figure who ripped away our little emperor's clothes last week.
In truth, serving as he had to under a leader like Cowen, the wonder of it is not that James McDaid resigned from politics last week but that this flawed but intuitively decent individual stayed for so long.
McDaid had his motorway adventures but there was always a sense that there was something belonging to the best of FF that still adhered to his persona. He was a well-respected doctor and an instinctive healer who in a very real way put people before politics. As is so often the case, in the aftermath of his resignation the media attention focused on the red herring of McDaid's departure as distinct from the real meat contained within his letter of resignation.
There, in a Dreyfus-style political indictment of the culture of Cowenism, McDaid slammed a Taoiseach who, in a desperate attempt to save his skin, is only interested in doing "what is politically possible rather than what is economically necessary".
And in a parting shot, a politician who defined himself as a "citizen first and a member of FF second" called for a new politics free "from the shackles of social partnership and political Dutch auctions" whose primary focus "is the survival of the Government".
Despite McDaid's bravery in revealing the naked state of FF's little emperor, he was casting his sweetness on to the desert air.
The kindest thing we can say of Mr Cowen's response to Ireland's 'Great Disruption' is that, like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, he may not yet know he, his Government and his party is dead.
Whatever about the Government, it is becoming increasingly clear that the hubris of the spendthrift prodigal son of Irish politics is about to lead FF towards its own terrible nemesis.
All great political battles can generally be summarised in a sentence and in its case the simple question FF must answer is who on Earth will vote for it.
The party has always defined itself as a great national movement but why should anyone vote for a party that has turned the countryside into a living desert?
If we can take any joy from our terrible debacle it is that FF is at the edge of a similar fate. Rather like the end of the Haughey era, the Green/Fianna Fail Coalition is surrounded by a distinctive taint of moral turpitude.
Mr Cowen is no 'evil spirit' for he is simply too soft.
But, whether it is NAMA or the by-elections, FF and the hand-wringers within the Greens are now prepared to subvert the institutions of the State to stay in power.
Last week as we watched Cowen and Noel Dempsey attempt to sneak away from the consequences of the High Court judgment on Donegal, it all resembled nothing more than the ethically sleazy desperation of the last days of Nixon. In truth, on one level we can hardly blame them, for there is no good escape for FF from the rat-trap they found themselves in.
Should the 'cowards of the county'-style view of some cabinet rats prevail -- that the party should cut and run before the Budget and leave the mess to the opposition and the IMF -- then the electorate will decimate them for their cowardice.
If they try to get the Budget through and fail they will be beheaded over their incompetence. And if the Coalition gets the Budget through they will be destroyed by an enraged electorate.
Like its banking doppelganger Anglo Irish Bank, when it comes to the extent of FF's likely losses there is no bottom line. And should the electorate's "out, out, out" mood be reflected by the loss of 50 seats, the cruel truth is that a party that changed from being a national movement into a Mafia-lite-style franchise will simply cease to exist.
Ultimately, the cruellest truth of all is that should FF be destroyed no one will care about its passing.
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