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Eoghan Harris: Hubris haunts all heads of state at some time or other

AS we have a new Government and a new Opposition, we are still looking for character clues. But three recent issues -- the banks, Moriarty and Libya -- show us the shape of things to come. Already four of my predictions are coming true.

First, Fine Gael's failure to govern as a minority (Fianna Fail would not dare pull the plug for at least four years), Labour's lazy decision to dine out on the spoils of office and Fianna Fail's failure to find a voice -- all this has left the Dail dangerously unbalanced and opened up a major opportunity for Sinn Fein.

Second, the Government's huge majority has not given it the courage to make hard choices. The biggest choice is whether to freeze pay and pensions in the fatter parts of the public sector until there is parity with the private sector, or place further tax burdens on the back of the private sector -- which will stifle the growth which can alone get us out of this grim hole.

Third, as I advised a few weeks ago, the Government should have stopped raising expectations that the EU can extricate us from our economic miseries. Perhaps the EU believes if we can afford to pay the director general of RTE €50,000 more than the Taoiseach we are not that strapped.

Finally, as Fianna Fail fades away, Sinn Fein is steadily becoming the most formidable opposition force in the Dail and in the media. Anyone who doubts that should look up Mary Lou McDonald's recent Dail contributions, or check out Pearse Doherty's commanding performance on Prime Time last week.

Let me make a further prediction. Sinn Fein will soon import some of the pluralist rhetoric it uses in Northern Ireland, stop old- style Provo posturing on the Queen's visit, take up the cause of poorly paid private sector workers, eat into Fine Gael and Labour's vote, and finish off Fianna Fail. That's one of the problematical legacies of having a Government with such a large majority.

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Hubris stalks all heads of state. As someone who strongly supported Enda Kenny in the recent General Election, I am entitled to warn him that he is heading for hubris when he attacks Bertie Ahern with a sleazy soundbite about "a Taoiseach degrading our nation and this office by trousering after-dinner tips".

The best soundbites have a solid ring of truth to them. Like my line for David Trimble about Northern Ireland being a cold house for Catholics. But to speak of Bertie Ahern -- a Taoiseach who worked all his days for peace -- in that derogatory fashion, demeaned Kenny more than it did Ahern.

Here are some facts to help the Taoiseach ward off hubris. Clinton and Blair trouser after-dinner tips all the time. Ahern may have had messy bank accounts but he did not dip into the public purse. Justice Flood has predicted that the Mahon Tribunal will not find Ahern culpable of public corruption.

But the actions of Michael Lowry are in a different league. They involved a licence worth millions, which became the foundation of a fortune worth billions. The Esat affair, which took place under a Fine Gael government, ranks as one of the major scandals since the foundation of the State.

Here are some more facts. Fine Gael cannot live forever on the alleged crimes of Bertie Ahern. Michael O'Regan of the Irish Times told Pat Kenny last Friday that he was doubtful if any other Irish government would have acted differently to Ahern's government. The Taoiseach should think: "There but for the grace of God go I".

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We also learned a lot about the calibre of new ministers and deputies during the recent debate on Libya. Foreign affairs, especially the Middle East, provide an almost infallible guide to good and bad politics. Those who blame America and Israel for the woes of the Arab world, or say "it's all about oil" are likely to have a bad line on domestic issues as well.

The Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, gave a good speech, saying the events of the Arab Spring "rightly bear comparison in many respects to the collapse of the former communist regimes in eastern Europe in the late Eighties". Pity he didn't see that back in 1988 when he and Pat Rabbitte opposed my document The Necessity of Social Democracy, which called on the Workers Party to pack in Soviet-style socialism.

Michael Kitt showed his good politics by linking Gaddafi to the Provos. So did Simon Harris, who called on deputies "to move away from the rhetoric of vested interest and western imperialism". Words wasted on old-style Shinners like Aengus O Snodaigh who blamed America for it all.

But O Snodaigh was no worse than Mick Wallace, who wanted to blame Israel for it all. Here's one more prediction. Wallace is another local hero who will become a bore at last.

Lucinda Creighton, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, gave a lucid account of the humanitarian reasons for supporting the rebels. It is worth noting that three women -- Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power -- have played a huge part in taking the hard line against Gaddafi.

But if Lucinda Creighton added a strong Irish voice to that worthy list she was let down by her Mayo colleague, Deputy Michelle Mulhern, whose contribution was worse than that of any Trot. In case you think me harsh, here is most of what she said: "What makes the Libyan situation special? Purely and simply, oil does. Libya should be helped to settle its problems but that is up to the Libyan people. Those who oppose Gaddafi did not follow democratic means; they took up arms against their leader."

Let's hope that if Deputy Mulhern was listening to Morning Ireland last Monday she hung her head in shame. We had a harrowing eyewitness account of how Eman al-Obeidy, a young student lawyer, burst into the press corps hotel in Tripoli last weekend and screamed that 15 members of Gaddafi's security detail had gang-raped her for two days. She was stuffed into a car by security goons and has not been seen since.

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Professor William Reville of UCC has gently rebuked me in the past for pussyfooting around the professional fees paid to hospital consultants. I have no answer for him -- apart from a craven desire not to annoy the consultants who are trying to cure my cancer.

Last week, however, I was involved in an incident which made me wonder whether I might do better being treated by a layperson. As I was driving towards the parking bay in the hospital reserved for radiation patients I was blocked by a butty young man in a white van who felt he had the right of way.

We spoke warmly for a while -- I enjoy these encounters -- during which I pointed out the sign reserving the bay for radiation patients. But Butty bore me no ill will, because as he drove away he provided me with the following optimistic prognosis: "There's nothing wrong with you, you f*****g c**t!"

Sunday Independent