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It's just like the Eighties again, only a lot worse

A break from real politics should always make you feel better, but last week it was impossible to hide from our last chance saloon where the grass isn't getting any greener status.

Of course, you wouldn't think this was the case in Leinster House where a happy senator was organising a tour for putative voters.

As the senator asked his guests "would you like a cup of tea, the Seanad chamber is closed", it was hard to dispel images of the clinking of tea-cups whilst the Titanic sunk.

Two hours later, as our busy senator finally issued his visitors with their marching cards, here at least was one man who was not worrying over fripperies like how we might run the country on €29.5bn a year.

He was not alone, for the Dail chamber was as empty as the Marie Celeste as the unfortunate Finance Committee engaged in a bitter debate over the Government's €54bn National Asset Management Agency property punt.

In truth, despite the furore over Special Vehicles, the whole disaster could be best summarised by the tale of the Kerry farmer who told the lost tourist that "Yerra, if you were going there I wouldn't start from here."

As the rest of the political landscape was dominated by the views of one happy doppelganger from the set of Killinaskully on drink driving and the possibility of exporting our Darling Clementine of a Tanaiste to Europe (yes please!), it was almost possible to be nostalgic for the Haughey era.

The flaws of the former Taoiseach and his protege Mr Ahern may have turned the Irish state into the Wild West of European capitalism to such an extent that our Dodge City economy now resembles that of Greece.

But we dearly need the sort of strong man who once told his opponents they should watch and wonder just how one small head like his could "hold all that it knew".

Sadly, it is impossible to believe that our equivocating, disappearing Taoiseach would have the wit or courage to make such a sweeping statement of self-belief.

The absence of such characters is all the more unfortunate for whilst the Government and its puppeteer economists muse hopefully of 'green shoots', if Britain is teetering back into recession how can we expect to thrive? As our India-rubber-style Taoiseach bends every way he can to simply survive, our problems, however, now go beyond "the economy, stupid".

Instead, the State is now experiencing an even bigger crisis of legitimacy than in the Eighties, for back then, at least, we had the comforting illusion that Garret, Charlie or, most risibly of all, the PDs would save us.

Today, however, we have no one. The even worse news is that politics is not the only institution of the State which is discredited almost beyond redemption.

In spite of all the public bellicosity, increasing numbers of working people suspect that the trade union leaders are nothing more than 'I'm all right Jack' merchants. The sole area of unity amidst the growing civil-war style divide developing between the public and private sectors is a belief that our bankers, top civil service mandarins, university professors and captains of industry are the enemies of the people.

As intimations grow that the State cannot even trust the gardai to hold the line, Ireland is like one of those buses in the movies that is hanging off the edge of a cliff.

The rate of acceleration of our plunge may have declined, but the new reality is a zombie-like state of suspended animation where one false move will spark a catastrophe.

Sadly, at a time where the political establishment needs the consent of the people more than ever, Mr Cowen's credit is worse than that of the banks, the only thing the electorate are certain about Enda is their uncertainty and though Mr Gilmore is more popular than those two, any leader who can't bring his party with him in the popularity stakes is only showboating. Such a scenario means the conventional political responses to crisis will not suffice.

We could have a cabinet reshuffle, but whilst Mr Cowen might once have had the authority to dismiss Coughlan, Harney, Dempsey, Cullen, O Cuiv, Smith, Martin and Ahern, the abject reality of things now is that he is unable to sack a single minister lest they simply walk from the party or politics.

Of course, the other time- honoured solution to times of political crisis is to kill the king but what is the point in putting poor Cowen out of his misery if confidence in his far scraggier rivals is no higher.

This absence of alternatives -- for no one is enthused by the new Lite and Sir Talks-a-lot dream team of Enda and Eamon -- means we are reaching a stage where the only option we now have is a Tallaght strategy-style national government.

Before anyone faints, let us be clear this new variant of Tallaght is absolutely not predicated upon the notion that the opposition should keep this lot in.

Instead, what this country desperately needs to do is to eschew Mr Cowen's politics of party before country and let the 15 best Dail TDs run the country. It is, of course, an indictment of the state of politics that it would actually be hard to find such a team of political All-Stars.

The choice of Taoiseach would be easy for Mr Cowen would be well-suited to the lifestyle of an EU Commissioner whilst a referendum asking for la McAleese to be sacked so Enda could do the 'waving at the people' presidential job he was born to do should be simpler than abolishing the Seanad.

Of course, this means Eamon Gilmore will have to be Taoiseach, but if this is turned into a Mary Robinson-style ceremonial role involving the giving of long-unlistened-to answers to questions nobody asked, he'll do a fine job.

Sadly when it comes to the rest of our All Stars whilst it is a tad harsh on Batt O'Keeffe and Willie O'Dea, the loss of voter confidence in the current junta means that only Mary Hanafin is certain to make the cut.

Though we suspect tough men like Albert or Mac the Knife would have brokered a very different deal with the bankers, Brian Lenihan makes the cut on the basis that he could become some sort of affable roving ambassador for charming the International Monetary Fund.

Labour can provide us with the wise heads of Quinn, Rabbitte and Joan Burton; the Greens have Eamon Ryan whilst Fine Gael can bring the alarmingly inexperienced George Lee, Leo Varadkar, Brian Hayes and the slightly fading star of Richard Bruton to the table.

Sadly, though, we still only have 11 good men and women.

We were tempted by Lucinda, Sean Sherlock and veteran Fine Gael talents such as Alan Shatter and Charlie Flanagan, but the iconoclastic qualities of John Deasy, Kieran O'Donnell's roundhead soul, the wide-boy practicalities of Darragh O'Brien and the dogged Fergus O'Dowd may ultimately be most suited to the times.

They would certainly be an eclectic crew.

One thing, however, is for sure. Absolutely no political collation could be worse than our current cabinet who are only fit to inspire wonder over, in spite of the scale of their egos, just how little their small heads really knew.

Sunday Independent