Friday 15 November 2019

Kenny has neither the steel nor charisma to rattle his EU masters

Our small country needed a leader of fanatical conviction like Charles Stewart Parnell or Winston Churchill, writes Aengus Fanning

On February 25, I voted for Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Sean Barrett of Fine Gael, and Independent Victor Boyhan, in that order and no further, in the hope (if not the expectation) that the outcome would be a single-party government, unfettered by Labour ideology, which might possibly have the ability and knowledge to get the economy moving again.

Within days, and not entirely to my surprise, I regretted that I had voted that way as I observed the cynical and, to me, wearying party political hacks lumber into action to ensure that a Fine Gael-Labour coalition with 113 seats gets office, if not exactly power, for the next four to five years.

I had tried to counter my own cynicism and had hoped that Enda Kenny would come blazing forth with courage, conviction and economic vision to tell the people that he would be taking the high-risk strategy of forming a Fine Gael government with the support of Independents. But I admit I wasn't surprised when he didn't.

I don't for one minute believe in the authenticity of the negotiations. The bottom line for both parties is to get over the line and into the Dail with over five-and-a-half times more seats than the main opposition party, Fianna Fail. In other words, no real opposition at all. A majority of such mammoth size is not only unnecessary, it is obscene and suppresses the spirit of parliamentary politics.

Am I the only one who suspects that, despite the touting by both parties of the idea that there were big policy differences to be overcome, the only genuinely potential deal-breaker was: Who is to be Minister for Finance in a puppet government ruled from Frankfurt?

Because puppet government is, I believe, the truth of it. Jean-Claude Trichet, a Frenchman, Ollie Rehn, a Finn, and Jose Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese, will do their paymaster's bidding. And their paymaster is, of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a powerful polemic on the facing page, Frederick Forsyth, who knows Ireland well, writes: "I can confidently predict that Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels will consume Mr Kenny for breakfast and spit out the buttons."

I would wish that Forsyth was wrong, but I suspect he is not. I would wish that Enda had the steel, the charisma, the force of personality, and the determi- nation to give our EU masters a

real rattling, but I'm afraid and I suspect that he has not.

What we need now is a Charles Stewart Parnell. What we have is a decent, good, friendly, and well-mannered Irish TD, who has more integrity in his desire to be of public service than have most, but has no real edge.

But even so, and even before the new government is formed, I was a little surprised to read the headline on page 7 of yesterday's Irish Times: 'Kenny sets stage to back away from bond demand.' And the page one lead story in the same newspaper says; 'German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a hard line on demands from Mr Kenny for better bailout terms, saying she expects concessions in return for any easing of the EU-IMF deal.' Does this mean that we'll go on playing the EU game by the Frankfurt-Brussels rules, that we'll be good boys, and we'll be pleased to be photographed with Merkel, Sarkozy and the rest, but no more than that? But where does that get us when the chips are down for real? We are on a life support machine controlled by moneylenders, and the terms they impose and the interest rates they charge are dictated by the Frankfurt-based ECB.

Let's not delude ourselves. The ECB's main concern today is not our economic plight, our deflated domestic economy, the businesses that have closed or the jobs that are being lost as consumers lost confidence.

Lives blighted in this fashion are regarded as the collateral damage of an economic emergency, and the price we must pay for not behaving according to the rules of dogmatic monetarism.

With oil prices soaring again, the ECB's obsessions remain those of Germany: inflation, inflation and inflation. Its principal counter-weapon? As always, interest rates.

Last Friday, Trichet, signalling a possible interest rate rise in April, said: "Strong vigilance is warranted with a view to containing upside risks to price stability."

So that's it. Rates will go up at a time when Ireland can least afford it.

The lessons of 2006-2007, when central banks raised interest rates rapidly to counter a huge surge in oil prices driven by a worldwide boom, have not been learned.

Five years ago, the too-rapid interest rate increases triggered a property price collapse in America and Europe, the nightmare of which still haunts us. To oppose the powerful and merciless EU forces, our small country needs a leader of fanatical conviction, will and courage.

This economic emergency is of disastrous proportions and, ideally, we need an Irish version of Winston Churchill to lead the fight. It is plain that we haven't got such a person right now.

All our anger has been spent on a massive anti-Fianna Fail vote which has, at least, brought about change.

I fear, however, that before long it will be business as usual in the Dail and the political games will go on, and they did last week with the elaborate political choreography masquerading as coalition negotiations.

Am I weary of Irish politics? The answer to that is yes.

Our politicians have entertained us very much recently, but of what real economic use is it all?

Are my views jaundiced and unfair because my own weariness with the political game?

In other words, am I wrong? They may well be so, but I will leave you to be the judge of that. In fact, I hope I'm wrong.

Sunday Independent

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