Wednesday 18 September 2019

Johnny Fallon: The Cardiff debacle is a mucky business and the Government has only itself to blame

THE government's attempt to appoint Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors has quickly developed into one that has no happy ending. It was a bit like watching a child that encounters a very large puddle blocking its route. Giving the matter some thought, the child thinks it would be very clever to take a good run and jump to see if the puddle can be cleared. Unfortunately, the child lands right in the middle. Wetter than ever, the child ploughs on ....

This Coalition had promised change. However. they knew that governments do not have the power to hire and fire at will among the civil service. They knew full well that the attacks made during their time in opposition, not just on the previous government but on the Department of Finance itself, had meant that it would be impossible to work with them unless new faces came in.

Then someone had a brainwave. Kevin Cardiff could be appointed to the European Court of Auditors. This meant that although the previous appointee, Eoin O’Shea, had requested to stay on - and been backed by the president of the court in his efforts - the new government turned down his request.

They needed to create a job for Kevin Cardiff that would allow him save face and allow them to show change at the top in the Department of Finance. The plan seemed watertight.

It was all going swimmingly until the famous accounting error showed Ireland owed €3.6 billion less than previously thought. The fact was that everyone seemed ready to move on until this monumental mistake called into question, yet again, Mr Cardiff’s handling of his Department. This was wedded to the fact that accounting errors are not something you want to hear from a man you are appointing as an auditor.

Suddenly all of the previous decisions made by Mr. Cardiff came into question again. The government lobbied hard. So hard in fact that we were treated to the spectacle of Proinsias De Rossa absolving the previous government of any fault in the banking crisis in an effort to help Mr. Cardiff during questioning yesterday.

Enda Kenny has made a lot of noise about his influence within Europe. Yet it was this very group of MEPs that let the government's plan down and voted against Mr. Cardiff. Definitely not the image Enda Kenny wanted to portray as Europe heads towards ever more summits and treaties.

Now the government are stuck, like the child in, the middle of the muddy puddle. They definitely don’t want to go back as they still have an enormous question about what they are going to do with Kevin Cardiff if he wants to stay on. Moving him about and keeping him on the payroll when Europe has rejected him would be extremely embarrassing.

They could look for an alternative route, which would mean giving Mr. Cardiff a hefty pay off and a nice handshake, but they don’t want to do that as it will lead to yet more grief and they criticised the previous government for such golden handshakes. It seems, therefore, that they have decided to wade on in and keep going until they get to the other side.

They are about to attempt to force Mr. Cardiff into the post. It could yet work, but when they emerge on the other side they will be very muddy and look very messy indeed.

Johnny Fallon is a political consultant

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