Saturday 25 November 2017

Interrogation? more like a slap with a wet stocking

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen arriving at the Banking Inquiry
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen arriving at the Banking Inquiry
Mandy Johnston

Mandy Johnston

There's an instruction manual in every PR company in town and it is called "How to survive the Banking Inquiry". Its advice is simple and short. Go in. Apologise. Get out.

Until last week, senior bankers and bureaucrats have all followed this advice assiduously. Since its inception, many have expected that the much-vaunted inquiry into the banking crisis would reach an epic crescendo with the appearance of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

This did not happen. In fact, the anticlimactic nature of the intransigent and often unimaginative questioning of the former Taoiseach by members of the Joint Committee, seemed like we were watching a man being slapped with a wet stocking rather than being pierced by a stiletto.

Devoid of any Hitchcockian menace the inquiry has failed to deliver any interesting or new plot twists.

Traditionally, the months of July and August lack political activity. This often leaves a vacuum to be filled, making way for less substantive stories to make the front pages.

That is of course kindly assuming there is substantive political activity in the other months. The cynics among us have suspected for some time that the timing of Cowen's appearance, in advance of the silly season news cycle, was deliberately timed to set off a summer of discontent amongst the beleaguered "Soldiers of Destiny" and the commentariate.

Brian Cowen's appearance, occurring just before the Dáil departs for its summer recess, should have left plenty of flesh for the feeding frenzy of the hungry political press corps.

What better way to kick off the slow political news period than with a good old lashing of Fianna Fáil; where Government and the bright new members of "Fianna Fáil Nua" remind everyone about all of the ills that have beset us in recent years at a public show trial.

Not content to regurgitate the narrative again, the Government had hoped that by publicly introducing the actual cast of characters, memories of distaste and discontent for Fianna Fáil would resurface.

For some it had the desired effect. For many more, it was just a bunch of politician's squabbling over why the plane crashed in the first place, just as the plane has been mended and we are about to take off again.

The Government also hoped his appearance would place "Fianna Fáil Nua" in the awkward position of squaring up to their former political masters, putting the current leadership in an invidious position of defending former leaders. That didn't happen either and they have actually risen in opinion polls. If the ace up the Governments sleeve was to give Fianna Fáil one last kicking before Fine Gael and Labour start doling out the dosh, then they may need to reload.

With the Greek economic and social implosion ringing in our ears, it is becoming clearer that the only discernible difference between Ireland then, and Greece now, is our political system, which although flawed in many ways, has still got a cogent and centralised set of political parties at its core.

Whilst Mr Cowen's appearance will not have recruited any new fans for Fianna Fáil, it may have reawakened some old ones. The spectacle of the former Taoiseach apologising for his sins, while at the same time staunchly defending his record, will have touched a nerve at the centre of the older guard in Fianna Fáil.

There is a vacuum that has existed in Fianna Fáil for some time and ironically it started with Brian Cowen himself, they have failed to defend their time in office. Following Brian Cowen's first appearance last week, a seasoned political reporter commented that, Brian Cowen was in fact outlining the narrative for the foot soldiers on the doorsteps in advance of the next election. Would that Fianna Fáil be so organised!

During the shambolic demise of the last Government, and the very public implosion of the Fianna Fáil party itself, any defence of the party's previous time in office was lost and forgotten. Punch drunk, the Cabinet simply lost all domestic political perspective. Given the appalling economic vista that was facing them at the time, this was perhaps understandable.

That Fianna Fáil have allowed their record to remain undefended for seven years is hard to countenance. For this reason, Cowen's defence of his time in office, and the policies that he pursued at that time came as quite a shock to many, who simple expected chastened apologies in the same pattern as the bankers and bureaucrats.

As the prime suspect presented himself to the committee over two days, the full gamut of Cowen's political personality were laid bare. Sorry, stubborn and at times verging on the edge of a sloping sulk, he apologised and defended and endeavoured to remain in control.

His political dexterity has not been lost and he was able to deal with anything they threw at him. Whilst his performance was deft, he may not have delivered a game changer for his own legacy. Having finally got their man into the interrogation room, they effectively released him without any new evidence and no charge.

The next important phase of the inquiry will be the final report of the Committee. The timing of which will be interesting.

One thing is certain, you can be sure that it will coincide with an important date in the next election cycle. Members of the voting public will decide for themselves whether the conclusions affect the next election. For now Fianna Fáil's identity crisis continues.

Irish Independent

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