Monday 16 September 2019

Gene Kerrigan: Is he gone yet? Who's up next? Oh, him?

Leo and Simon at it like rabbits, Enda looked forward to a €378,000 gift, and FG forgot to vote

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

For politicians in heat, words are dust to be thrown in the eyes of others, while they position themselves for victory. And during any election, truth is a handicap. So, never mind what they say, watch what they do.

Like Bertie Ahern before him, Enda Kenny milked every last drop of applause he could extract from his leadership role. Kenny's would-be successors have been throbbing with lust for the top job.

Forced to restrain their passion, the longing built up. Over the past four days, since Enda said he's going, they've been at it like rabbits.

I've got pages of quotes - all of it meaningless waffle. Light-hearted Leo, standing before the cameras in a sunlit street, providing cakes for the media. Solemn Simon, attending the cameras in a dim room, listing his virtues like a boy scout boasting of the badges he's earned and the knots he can tie.

Ambitious politicians praised the men they hope will give them ministerial office. They nuzzled microphones. The sentences they gurgled were mere primitive noises signifying approval. "I admire Leo's sincerity and in particular his honesty."

Much of the eulogising of the departing Enda recalled heartfelt speeches he made - even when those speeches were at odds with his actions.

For instance, he wrung tears from many with his fine words on those abused by the Catholic Church. But far more tears were shed as Kenny and others stood stone-faced while victims were forced by an implacable state into years of stressful litigation.

So, let's briefly look at what Mr Kenny did with his six years in office - not what he and his fans say he did. And let's look at what we can expect now Enda is an already fading memory.

First, it's worth noting that there wasn't a whisper about Enda and dodgy money. Fair play.

And, even those of us who had only a slight professional acquaintance with Enda, saw him as an amiable, cheerful and nice person.

That's the positives out of the way.

For the first 36 of his 41 years in the Dail, he didn't do much. He was a backbencher most of the time, and spent short periods (a year here, two years there) in two minor offices (youth affairs and tourism).

He was, in fact, noted for not saying much - he didn't have a speech writer through those decades.

At the 2011 election, there were signs on front doors telling Fianna Fail canvassers to eff off. The party that did not dare speak its name was virtually wiped out in Dublin.

And still Fine Gael could not get a majority.

As Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and his FG/Labour coalition had one major historic role. They carried out that role with single-minded courage, determination and cruelty.

It involved a massive wealth transfer.

A paroxysm of greed and delusion collapsed the financial system and broke the economy. The task for the European Central Bank, the IMF and their clients was to restore the financial system, while preserving the structural unfairness that wrecked it.

Our government pumped tens of billions into the private banks. This could have been recouped from those whose greed broke the system, but for ideological reasons it was instead taken from the public purse.

That required levies and income cuts, and year after year of huge cuts in social spending. Hospitals and schools, those served by them and those who work in them, were a preferred target. The newspaper Rich Lists provide evidence of the huge upsurge in wealth achieved by the billionaires during that period.

It might have created rebellion, but FF, FG and Labour were on the ball. They played the nationalist card, deeming it a matter of national pride to "exit the bailout".

An agreeable media chimed in, those of a subservient bent endorsed the old saying: about "backs aching for the lash".

Budgets that under FF were deemed "a disaster and an obscenity" (Michael Noonan), and motivated by "savagery", using Hitler's tactics from "his 1925 book Mein Kampf" (Brendan Howlin), were deemed patriotic when imposed by FG and Labour.

Thus was "the economy restored", by amiable Enda.

We will never know the extent of the physical pain endured, the unnecessary premature deaths caused, by the austerity regime. Our academics didn't count such costs after the 1980s austerity romp, and they won't count them now.

Through all this, Enda remained a nice man. If you could get his ear he'd no doubt suggest you sit down and tell him your problems. His empathy would be genuine, if you'd no shirt he'd give you the one off his back.

And when you'd gone, he'd resume work on the policies that would push you further down into poverty and despair.

Leo and Simon, too, are nice men.

Leo served less than two years in Health. It should have been a dream job for a doctor, but he was largely ineffectual and - like others - seemed in an inordinate hurry to get out of the job.

He was much more comfortable as Minister for Social Protection, solidifying his FG base by mounting the traditional shop-your-neighbour campaign. Like others before him, he kept silent about the tax dodging and pretended the minuscule benefit fraud is an urgent problem.

He's got charisma, apparently. His campaign for the leadership was thought out, prepping TDs to vocally back him immediately.

The vacuousness of the cakes and drinks launch in the sunshine was so blatantly obvious that the media seemed to enjoy it for its cheesiness. The coverage of Varadkar was cringe-making.

What do they promise us?

Varadkar entered the Dail 10 years ago, Coveney 19 years ago. Both presided over the wasted years of austerity, neither can point to achievements in solving the glaring social problems.

Varadkar is part of a long list of failed Ministers for Health still active (James Reilly, Michael Martin, Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin). Eminently solvable social problems are allowed to linger, while one failed "market solution" after another is given a try.

Coveney's latest wheeze is "temporarily" "housing" the homeless in vacant industrial premises.

The future? Solvable problems left unsolved, as off-the-peg right-wing policies continue to fail.

While Coveney was campaigning to replace Enda, who did his Housing job? Well, he has a junior minister of Housing, Damien English. But guess who was his campaign manager? Yep, Damien.

Incidentally, Damien was on Sean O'Rourke's radio programme on Thursday, telling us how great Simon is. He said Simon wants "to continue with this current coalition government but also to build the party for the future".

(Oops, Damien. You're not supposed to admit there's an FF/FG coalition. It's an "arrangement", so the FF/FG cartel can straddle both government and opposition, excluding others from both roles.)

That same day, while Damien and the rest of the FG geniuses were playing electoral games, the Dail passed a motion opposing the sale of State shares in AIB. Thus did the Dail vote against Government plans.

It seems the FG folks just weren't interested - and those who were around, maybe no one told them which way to vote - so the government lost.

Anyway, not to worry. The Government has let it be known it will sell the shares, regardless.

But, but... the democratic voice of the Dail?

Screw that.

Never mind what they say, watch what they do.

Meanwhile, Enda retires with a €128,000-a-year pension, plus a €378,000 goodbye gift. Job done.

Sunday Independent

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