Monday 12 November 2018

Calamity Coughlan

John Cooney assesses the Tanaiste's performance on this week's 'Questions and Answers'

The decision to put forward the Cliffs of Moher as Ireland's candidate for one of the seven wonders of the world provides a metaphor for the country's economic predicament, standing as it is on the edge of the abyss.

This beguiling image mirrors the volcanic mood of the public at the rapidity of the economy's descent into indebtedness. Tossed over the cliffs last week was the country's reputation in the Celtic Tiger days as a haven for hi-tech industry with the loss of 1,900 jobs when Dell decided to move its operation from Limerick to less costly Poland.

This invites the uncharitable cartoon of our politicians being lined up to jump off the 214-metre high Co Clare sea cliffs.

The first for the jump should be Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise Mary Coughlan who turned in the most calamitous ministerial performance ever on RTE's Questions and Answers on Monday evening.

Branded as our homespun Donegal answer to Sarah Palin, Mary Coughlan, who on a bright day looks fondly at Iceland from Mount Errigal for economic inspiration, sounded more like Calamity Jane in a third-rate Hollywood movie.

It was not so much what she said, because she said nothing. It was the manner in which she mouthed her departmental lines that conveyed the message that our government number two -- "the Sheriff" was how she egregiously described herself -- has scant idea of what it is like for the 10,000 people who have lost -- or are about to lose -- their jobs and suddenly face the horrendous prospect of becoming impoverished.

Instead of empathising, for instance, with the 1,900 workers made redundant by Dell in Limerick, as did SIPTU regional secretary Patricia King passionately, 'Calamity' refused to engage with King when the union leader denounced Dell for the meagre redundancy payments made to long- serving workers.

'Calamity' was dismissive of debate on the question "Are public sector workers to be used as 'scapegoats' on the economy?" with King and other panellists.

Matronly, she spoke about "difficulties on the architecture of economic recovery" which she and the two Brians -- Cowen and Lenihan -- were addressing with the social partners. "Unpalatable" decisions would be taken to deal with the huge shortfall in revenue. Everyone "would share the burden".

"At the end of the day it will be the Government which will make the difficult decisions as they may be," she said haughtily, assuring us that these would be the right decisions and that we would all live happily ever after when recovery returns in a few years' time!

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On the other key question of "How will the recent big job losses be off-set?", 'Calamity' came up with no creative suggestions. She parroted platitudes about a taskforce for Limerick and of sending "my people" -- her departmental officials -- to their rescue. This must have been cheering news to those laid off by Dell, Waterford Crystal and the textile factories in Donegal.

Camera-shots of the passive 'Calamity' showed her affecting special indifference to the incisive Richard Bruton. She demonstrated little understanding of the urgency for a recovery plan, a solidarity pact, a return to competitiveness and certainly showed no appetite for slashing the bloated remuneration and perks of the new enriched political class which she so singularly embodies.

It is of little wonder that Fianna Fail is on an abysmally low 28pc popularity rating. The chasm between 'Calamity and Co' and the electorate is of Cliffs of Moher proportions.

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