Friday 26 April 2019

Captain of this Titanic is busy ignoring the icebergs

Our Taoiseach should start governing or go, before our economy heads for the rocks, writes John Drennan

John Drennan

IF our Bourbon style government has anything to learn from last week's Irish Independent poll it must be that it can no longer go on as it has been going.

A terrible syphilis of the soul has infected Fianna Fail to the point where they are impotent for good.

Now the people have weighed and they have measured and decided that this lot has a problem with legitimacy that is unprecedented in the history of the state.

When 90 per cent of the public believe you are no good then you are as bankrupt as our banks.

One could hardly blame the voters either, for our economy is at the gates of that dreadful era in the 1980s when the Daily Mail used to cause regular national furores over its claims that the Irish finances were based on nothing more than the pig and the potato.

Leinster House may have been quieter last week but the absence of the bitter civil war style exchanges between Kenny and Cowen did not mean things were any better.

Instead it looked as though the Dail was enveloped in the same fatalistic inert fog of suppressed fear and cynical despair that brought to mind the state of France in 1940 just before the German onslaught on the Maginot line.

Richard Bruton most clearly summarised the growing concern that the clock is ticking on Ireland's fiscal independence in terms of weeks rather than months as he warned the house that "unless the Government becomes more open to new ideas we will go down the tubes".

In truth however the Government still appears to be either too fiscally illiterate to realise the extent of the problem or they have been terrified into a shocked state of inertia by the extent of it all.

However it is now dangerously clear that Brian Lenihan's jerry-built Maginot wall, which was supposed to shore up our league of national busted banks, is crumbling fast and no-one appears to know how to repair it.

Instead Brian Cowen and a Tanaiste, whose credibility is on the same level as Anglo Irish Bank, made it abundantly clear their policy would be to stick with Brian Lenihan's shipwrecked October budget and a recapitalisation of the banks that has collapsed the share price to a record lows.

You would almost compare it to the politics of the Titanic were it not for the fact that if we do hit the rocks it will be rats, politicians and bankers first, women and children second and even that is predicated on the actual existence of any lifeboats.

Sadly the most un-nerving element of the current crisis is that the Government appears to be equally blind to the icebergs floating around, as was the Titanic's ill-fated captain.

The first example of this trait occurred last week when Mary Harney casually announced that our overpaid consultants will still be getting a pay rise that will see them earn over €250,000 per annum.

Are they for real?

Apparently they are.

In the Dail, meanwhile, the aura of fiddling while Rome burns intensified as Brian Cowen tore into the opposition over their refusal to co-operate with a government whose economic wretchedness surpasses that of the first Haughey era.

In the 1980s Ireland was only a basket case. Now we're a charity case whose survival is predicated on the EU's fear of a domino theory of economics, where if one bankrupt little country falls more will swiftly follow. In a scenario such as this, the petty court politics of last week's Dail was the equivalent of playing croquet on the lawns of Versailles a week before the sacking of the Bastille.

It got even worse on Wednesday when the Government's very own Marie Antoinette was criticising as not very mature the Opposition's call for a clear-out of the regulators who stood impotently by as Anglo Irish, to quote Eamon Gilmore, "cooked the books''.

As Mary Coughlan followed this up with the wondrous claim that the two billion public service levy was a sufficient response to our fiscal crisis, it is a measure of the political incoherence of the cabinet that our eccentric Junior Minister Martin Mansergh made the most prescient speech of the week.

Mansergh admitted that unless we get our house in order we are now edging towards a situation where the county will require emergency support "inside the Eurozone or out".

Though Fianna Fail's Junior Minister in charge of Appearing on Vincent Browne may come across as a bit of an eccentric, his views contain some weight for he is often used as the Government's fire-ship for unpalatable ideas.

Of course when it came to straight talking Mansergh was a man alone last week.

In fairness to the Tanaiste who normally secures the 'most astonishing remark of the week prize' on this occasion the award was secured by Brian Cowen's decision to tell the Opposition that if "we are prepared to be radical on all fronts, we can sit down and find a solution to the problem".

In a scenario where Ireland is the EU's canary in the economic coalmine it was frankly astonishing to think that Mr Cowen is still looking for a solution. Sadly he is not alone for our trade union oligarchs appear to be more consumed by the desire to maintain their feather bedded positions rather than telling their employees the full awful truth of what they face.

Surprisingly this desolate landscape does offer Cowen a final great opportunity.

It may be too late already but one of Mr Cowen's greatest political errors was his refusal to engage in a state of the nation address at the start of his regime.

At the best of times it might appear to be odd that the Taoiseach might feel talking directly to the voters would demean him in some way.

However Cowen's belief that the people were too stupid or too greedy to handle the truth has created a critical fissure in the public's consciousness where the voters understand the recession in theory but not in practice.

If it were just confined to the public, this concept might still be acceptable but the virus is endemic among the Cabinet too, for while gentlemen such as Noel Dempsey have talked of acts of "national treason" his concern about the banks merely brought to mind words about the need for physicians to heal themselves.

The nation is on the point of being destroyed by the treason of a governing class whose response to our crisis resembles a dying bachelor who shrinks a little deeper into the bed and turns his face to the wall.

It is time for Cowen to follow the courageous example set by Enda Kenny and Garret FitzGerald on Friday -- more will be needed than another chamber of commerce speech where Mr Cowen shouts "come on the lads, pride in the village jersey" and disappears for another month.

The time has finally arrived for the Taoiseach to govern or go.

If Cowen flunks this challenge and the streets fill up with rioters he may not have much of a choice when it comes to the going part.

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