Let's hope a time never comes when FG leaders believe that they can do no wrong
Published 03/07/2015 | 02:30
Charlie McCreevy's performance at the Banking Inquiry on Wednesday has been described as wonderful. I can think of a better word: perfect.
Perfection forms a central part of the Old Fianna Fáil philosophy. The philosophy leaves some room, but only a very little room, for minor mistakes. It also concedes that unavoidable misfortunes, sadly, occur from time to time. The French call these "choses de la vie" (things of life). But no Fianna Fáil leader or minister can deliberately implement - or even dream of - policies that could have catastrophic consequences. If overwhelming evidence exists that someone has done exactly that, he has placed himself outside the fold.
No fear of Champagne Charlie, or Brian Cowen, being forced into such an unpleasant situation.
On Wednesday, Mr McCreevy insisted that not only had he done nothing wrong during his tenure as finance minister, he had done everything right. Specifically, he denied that his policies contributed to the property bubble whose consequences we all know to our cost. Yesterday, under pressure from the inquiry chairman, Mr Cowen conceded (or appeared to concede) that he might have made the occasional mistake. But in his main message he insisted he was happy with what he had achieved. Mr McCreevy thought the government which preceded the economic crash was the best in the history of the State. Talk about flying in the face of the facts!
The frightening thing here is not the misgovernment of the country under Fianna Fáil. It is not the suffering of the population under the austerity regime. It is not even the question, nowadays asked more and more frequently, whether austerity was entirely the wrong course of action.
It is that Mr McCreevy and Mr Cowen believe sincerely that they did everything right because people in their former positions can do nothing wrong.
What does that say about our country and about the party that dominated the political scene for so long?
Fianna Fáil ministers did not only ignore the facts. They refused to accept the evidence of their own eyes - and everyone else's eyes.
And what happened when other forces - the banks, Brussels and Frankfurt - left them with no option but to act?
We now know that the banking guarantee did not derive from panic (though panic there was) on the night of September 29-30 2008. It had been secretly constructed over a period of months. Those who attended the fateful meeting found themselves presented with what amounted to a fait accompli.
Much the same is true of the EU-ECB-IMF bailout. This time, Ireland could neither make choices nor avoid consequences. We lost our economic independence. And we have not got it back.
The Fine Gael-Labour coalition has done some very good things. Investment has returned - though partly, mind you, because we are selling valuable assets at knockdown prices. Unemployment has fallen. Expensive new cars fill our streets.
But we remain subject to the diktats of Frankfurt - or, perhaps, better say Berlin. Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble pull the strings. If they are not pulling many Irish strings right now, that is chiefly because of their preoccupation with Greece.
Their wishes can be described very simply. They want a deal which, if accepted, will keep Greece in recession for a generation.
They will intervene in Ireland only if Fine Gael and Labour repeat the disastrous blunders made by Fianna Fáil. Unfortunately, such a repetition is entirely possible. We labour under a mountain of public and private debt. We have hardly any room for manoeuvre. Can we afford something in the region of €2bn to restore public service pay rates? And this at a time when we need an extra €1bn for the health service and an unknown but certainly enormous figure for water infrastructure?
At this time, too, we are vulnerable to every wind that blows from every corner, some uncomfortably close.
Doubtless we will give David Cameron any help we can as he tries to square the Britain-in-Europe circle. But we can do nothing about Scotland if the Scots vote, as seems likely, for independence. And the recent British budget will make Northern Ireland even poorer than at present.
But something worries me more than any of these problems. You must have noticed how Fine Gael, almost by the day, comes more and more to resemble Fianna Fáil.
The "decent fellows", as they were once described, appear almost as addicted to secrecy and denial as the former "natural party of government". Was some kind of boundary crossed when Enda Kenny denied that his Government had raised taxes?
We used to hear that kind of nonsense falling from Fianna Fáil lips. Let's hope at least that a time never comes when Fine Gael leaders think they can do no wrong. For any politician, this is the worst blunder of all.