John Drennan

Monday 28 July 2014

There's nothing accidental about Cowen's bad karma

Published 14/12/2008|00:00

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SOMETIMES, as he battles against execrable fate like a rotund but still dignified equivalent of Chaplin's famous tramp, it is almost possible to admire the resilience.

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It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Even now there are occasional teasing moments of hope. Four days before a phone call at 3.40pm last Saturday gave Brian Cowen 20 minutes to decide the fate of the Irish pork industry, it had looked as though the political scene was set for the great fight-back.

In one brief Dail vignette, the most doleful, the most abject and the most self pitying Taoiseach of them all had shown some of the fire in the belly we so urgently need.

And then we were back to business as usual as the Taoiseach's 'panic now, think later' strategy placed 6,000 jobs and a billion euro industry in jeopardy.

As taxpayers prepare to pony up €180m to dispose of perfectly healthy pork, the Government will justifiably argue that hindsight is the easiest of virtues.

We, however, pay them to have foresight.

Instead, as with every other aspect of this Government's performance, once we got past the applause for the 'decisive action' it took in sending a €180m of perfectly safe meat to the incinerators, there was no Plan B.

On Thursday, as a pallid Taoiseach faced into the most dangerous set of diplomatic circumstances any Irish leader has faced since the treaty negotiations, it is a measure of where we are today that last week was actually as good a week as the Government has had for some time.

Ministers may have to scrabble under the sofa for yet another unexpected bill but the pigs kept the unemployment crisis, the accelerating collapse of the banks, the credit freeze, the devastation of the Irish export services to England, the wreck of our foreign policy and Brian Lenihan's inevitable mini-budget off the front pages.

That -- unless anything else turns up -- is next week's agenda.

Oddly enough, this did not come as any consolation to the exhausted, desperate, increasingly bitter and shell-shocked Fianna Fail TDs. They continue to believe that their man is battling valiantly but the dangerous view that that the weight of circumstances is beating him down is starting to spread.

Even the belated spin about a man of destiny having 20 minutes to decide the fate of the nation was less than convincing. This was all very dramatic but it did raise the question as to who was the boss.

It is unfortunately not the first time that question been asked and the bad news for Brian Cowen is that it is being posed by an increasing number of his own.

It is bad enough that Mr Cowen has to deal with contempt and anger at home and abroad. However, even in the sanctuary of his beloved Dail bar, the atmosphere has turned feral as, looking at the ruination of their future careers, a growing number of Fianna Fail TDs are coming to a conclusion that Mr Cowen is jinxed.

Of course, such a view is not informed by reason, but when the structures of a society are imploding, logic is scarcer than credit.

The back-benchers are not the only members of the party who are backing away from a man whose misadventures are as bleakly comical as those of Calamity James.

Already one third of Mr Cowen's Cabinet and more than half of his junior ministers are privately ambivalent. It is not that they are openly disloyal yet but as the battle rages and the 'boss' lumbers around in desperately decreasing circles, they have simply disappeared.

Ironically, though it owes more to superstition than reason -- and it is all the more lethal because of that -- the growing backbench belief that the Taoiseach is simply 'jinxed' may not be too far out.

The essence of karma is that nothing is accidental and that even apparently random acts of misfortune are, in fact, the inevitable consequence of past sins.

Were he to take refuge in karma, Mr Cowen could be excused for casting a wintry glare in the direction of the 'most clever, most cunning most devious one of all'.

However, even as Bertie held court in the humble surroundings of the Dail canteen on Thursday with an awed coterie of smiling Fianna Fail ministers and TDs -- and that's a rare sight these days -- when it comes to the source of his current bad luck, he should look a little closer to home.

Brendan Smith is a pleasant, affable, harmless sort of a chap -- a man who has known no other life beyond the gated world of Dail politics for 30 years. In all that time, the most dramatic moment of Smith's career occurred earlier this year when Alan Shatter shredded the then Minister for Children over the failure of the Health Service Executive to publish any reports into the state of our child services for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

It was hard to know which was the more astonishing sight -- Smith's blissful ignorance over the apparent state of our child protection services, or his devastated sense of self pity over Shatter's barefaced cheek in attacking him over the issue.

In fairness to Smith, nothing even approaching the Baby P scandal has occurred during his sleepy watch, but it was impossible to avoid the impression that this was down to luck rather than foresight.

Of course, the minister's ignorance about the serious lapse didn't do any harm to Smith's career either. Instead, within the old clubbable world of Cowen, Brendan's status as a nice chap who'd served his time and was in a geographically propitious location, finally saw him secure the Agriculture brief.

The bad news last week, of course, was that Cowen's carelessness over the calibre of his Cabinet meant this happy chappy was in charge when the biggest crisis since BSE hit the Irish agriculture sector.

In the world of karma, bad fortune is never accidental.

The bad news for us is that Cowen's bad karma is affecting every aspect of the State.

Ironically after the high drama of the pork recall and the humiliation of Brussels, the most unnerving event of last week took place in an empty Dail chamber. By the time an utterly at-sea Brian Lenihan finished answering questions on finance, most of the witnesses were looking for a slot in the Priory.

As the economy increasingly resembles that Orwellian image of a boot stamping on a face, Mr Cowen may well believe this, and that the witless performance of a finance minister whom Bertie only appointed to Cabinet with the greatest of reluctance, is yet another example of sheer bad luck. However, once again, Mr Cowen is the author of his own karma for, as with Brendan Smith, our fiscal hero is Cowen's creature.

Last week, the aftermath of the pork debacle saw us being treated to the usual pieties about lessons being learnt. In truth, the most important lesson Mr Cowen, his Cabinet and the FF party need to learn is that it's time to stop whining about bad luck, embrace the concept of karma and realise that ultimately you make your own luck.

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