Saturday 25 January 2020

They're not very good at this, are they?

If they screw up a simple meeting, no wonder these people made a hash of the country, writes Gene Kerrigan

Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Cartoonist: Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Is Enda Kenny lying about what happened at his disastrous meeting with Micheal Martin? Or is Micheal Martin lying? Or was it all a devious plot?

Neither was lying. There was no plot. It's just they're not very good at what they do.

This was one of the shortest meetings either of them has ever attended, yet they made such a mess of it, as they tried to best each other, that they can't even agree on what they said.

To understand the seriousness of the chaos created by Kenny and Martin, we have to consider the state of the country.

And how it got this way, who was in charge and how they keep applying the same failed ideology to try to fix the mess they've made.

The business model constructed by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael is under threat. It involves helping global corporations avoid tax. As a result, we're now in the sights of powerful governments across the world.

Meanwhile, Britain may vote to leave the EU, possibly with severe consequences for the Irish economy.

Meanwhile, the housing market isn't capable of housing the citizens but, given the prices in Dublin, it just might be capable of creating another bubble.

Meanwhile, homelessness has already passed the point at which it's damaging significant numbers of young people. Ideological opposition to municipal building prevents FF and FG from effectively tackling it.

Meanwhile, the problems in the public health service are killing people. Dr Fergal Hickey, of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, says studies show that delays in treatment increase fatal outcomes: this, he says, suggests that "some 300 to 350 Irish patients a year are dying unnecessarily as a result of emergency department overcrowding".

Dying unnecessarily.

If terrorists were responsible, we'd pass draconian laws and consider internment.

At over 300 a year, in 10 years the dangerous health system kills more people than were killed in the Northern Troubles over a 30-year period. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have been more deadly than the IRA, the INLA, the UVF, the UDA, the B Specials and the British Army, combined.

All of these problems will be enormously difficult to tackle.

Now, look at Kenny and Martin, trying to perform a relatively simple task, to work out how a government might be formed from 157 TDs.

Kenny had a 79-foot wall to climb over - the number needed for a Dail majority. He had a 50-foot ladder, the number of Fine Gael TDs. Michael Lowry added his one-foot ladder, that's 51.

Kenny had talks with the Greens, because they've got a two-foot ladder. They said no. Shane Ross and his mates have a six-foot ladder and they said maybe.

Kenny and his very expensive consultants and genius sidekicks such as Paul Kehoe and Simon Harris spent six weeks talking to Independents, because they figured there might be nine-foot ladder in it.

So - a whole range of little ladders, one atop the other: 50 plus 1 and maybe 6 and then. . .

The ladders didn't add up. Everyone could see that.

All the while, Martin had a 43-foot ladder. Made of the same material, the same design - Kenny's ladder is blue and Martin's is green, but they're a perfect fit.

Week followed week, as Kenny blundered on. Finally, he decided to talk to Martin, but he couldn't get him on the phone. Martin didn't bother ringing back. Anyway, says Martin, what I want is a minority government.

After another week, they met and bargained, for just 15 minutes, and Kenny said, "Let's be partners, put our ladders together with all the other ladders".

What Martin heard was, "This oul' minority government shite is off the table, okay?"

Now, I don't know who said what, but I know this isn't how serious people do serious work. Such meetings are prepared in advance. "Here's what I will say; and here's what I would like to hear." Notes are taken and memos are exchanged afterwards. That's how serious people do it.

Martin immediately went running to tell the media how upset he was with Enda.

And Enda's people ran to get to the media first.

The whole thing has a smell of political playacting about it - two people trying to wrong-foot each other.

Martin explained that he had to reject the offer because FF promised voters they wouldn't go into coalition with FG. And, he said, they can't break a promise.

Never stopped you before, mate.

For instance, Martin was the Minister for Health who promised to end the waiting list scandal within two years (he made the promise in May 2002, he was a government minister through the following nine years).

And Kenny's people denied he said minority government was off the table. And, they said, Martin missed an historic opportunity to. . .

Suddenly, the airwaves were full of FGers, using precisely the same phrases, almost as though someone had given them a script.

If there's one thing both sides agreed on it was to condemn those dreadful Shinners and the Lefties and the Independents who wouldn't play the ladder game, and "who are against everything and for nothing". These 48 TDs, "don't want to be in government".


This isn't just about numbers. It's about politics. Kenny and Martin share a political ideology. The TDs who refuse to help them impose further austerity mostly don't share that ideology.

The big political issue of our time, in the western economies, is austerity. There is a right-wing school of economics, which has had wide popular support for over 30 years. It has long dominated the European Central Bank.

This demands extremist deregulation, to free the markets and the people who gamble in the banking sector.

Result? They crashed the economy in 2008.

That right-wing ideology also demands no higher taxes on the rich; and that the State pays whatever it takes to support the collapsed banking markets. And, consequently, it meant austerity for the mass of the people.

That's been happening since 2008.

There's an alternative point of view. It says that inequality has grown to such heights that it's not alone unfair, it's economically dangerous. Absurd amounts of the fruits of our hard work are sucked up by the rich and thus diverted to unproductive use.

Depressing the economic activity of the great mass of people, through austerity, damages the economy further.

From 2008, the ECB has effectively run the country. For a while, it took direct control of the economy along with the IMF. Then it put strict fiscal rules in place and gave it back to Irish politicians at the end of 2014, to run as a branch office of the ECB.

Enda Kenny's job has been mostly about managing Fine Gael. Now, faced with a real problem, he's wasted six weeks on the ladder game, while Martin and he circled each other, seeking party advancement.

All the while, they've talked of "putting the country first", and denouncing those who "don't want to be in government". These people have spent six weeks proving they're not fit to run a corner shop, let alone a government.

For 95 years, one or other of the two major right-wing parties took turns in Government, the other dominated the Opposition. That incestuous set-up is now under threat, hence the panic.

The recent General Election saw between 40 and 50 people of an anti-austerity point of view elected, their politics left of centre to varied degrees. It's not that they "don't want to be in government". They figure that, unfortunately, only the Right has the numbers for that.

The Left is as yet too small to govern. The Right is too thick.

Sunday Independent

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