Tuesday 16 July 2019

John Drennan: Our Taoiseach is now Europe's puppet king

And Brian Cowen leads a State that has been hollowed out of his own reckless incompetence, says John Drennan

LAST week, the political grim reaper indulged in a test run of his sickle across the necks of Enda Kenny and Brian Cowen.

In spite of the best efforts of the Donegal electorate and half his party, Kenny, whose sole political talent now appears to be escapology, may still talk his way into the Taoiseach's office.

On the other hand, the only positive to emerge for Mr Cowen is that a Taoiseach who has so far been an even greater cipher than Jack Lynch has finally found a political role. His destiny is to be the undertaker of the State, and of the party he governs in that weird, fitful way of his.

Astonishingly, even after a week in which he managed to further debase his personal credibility, the reputation of the country and the respect normally due to the Taoiseach's office, Mr Cowen still does not see this.

But, even before Patrick Honohan courageously forced our lying politicians into a grudging admission of the truth, no amount of riddles could obscure the reality: Ireland could just about cope with the fiscal consequences of Mr Cowen's abysmal years in finance, where he wrecked the public finances. We might even have managed to deal with the bankruptcy of our banks, but Europe sifted, weighed, measured and decided we cannot behead both of these dragons.

Our fatal stasis in this regard is epitomised by the state of the banks. Two years after the fateful guarantee, they are still insolvent -- to the point where if the European Central Bank withdrew support the ATMs would cease to operate within a week.

Whatever about the fiscal deficit, when it comes to the banks, it's still a case of "solvency, stupid". Sadly, "stupid" -- be it Brian Cowen or our slow learner of a Finance Minister -- still doesn't get it.

Last week provided Mr Cowen with the opportunity for a final moment of redemption. But instead of treating the State to the respect of some straight talking, our cowardly Taoiseach retreated into the fiscal equivalent of the language of the Appeasement Process.

There was, of course, a certain reason behind the duplicitous "terms of art" where a disbelieving country was told a bailout is actually an "arrangement".

Europe, despite its real feelings, has not been unkind about our current indigence.

This, however, has very little to do with concern about how Paddy might start weeping about his lost sovereignty. Instead, the fictions about how our devalued Finance Minister was fighting for Ireland's interests were informed by the strategic intent of our "kindly" IMF and EU Axis of Bankers to ensure our bailout is a gentle, understated affair.

Like all bureaucrats, the Axis of Bankers prefers to dispose by stealth. The last things it wants are elections, leadership crises and collapsed budgets.

It is a measure of the demoralised state of the people -- and the utter incompetence of our elite -- that their greatest fear instead is that our muppet of a Taoiseach may even make a botch of the devoutly desired fait accompli style takeover of our delinquent State.

In spite of all the politeness, however, were Mr Cowen to misbehave over the next few days, Europe will be swift to remind us of a couple of critical realities. Ireland is now the fiscal equivalent of the child who starts to cough in TB-ridden Fifties Ireland.

A State which has become fatally detached from the European herd is now defined by phrases like contagion.

We are being quarantined to ensure the disease that has infected our banks and the State itself does not cross over to the mainland.

Mr Cowen's sad role in all this is to be the puppet king who delivers the State over to our new masters with the minimum of fuss. One supposes that at least he will be prepared for it, for the one defining characteristic of his political existence has been Mr Cowen's status as a puppet.

He was his party's puppet, Albert's little puppet, the bar lobby's all too willing puppet and Bertie's wasteful puppet.

Now the awful apotheosis of Cowen's character has been reached. Ireland's Taoiseach is now Europe's little puppet king who leads a State that has been hollowed out by his own reckless incompetence.

Like any good puppet, so far Mr Cowen has behaved impeccably. We are already, for example, being told the Axis will be kind.

The bailout will, it is said, be the fiscal equivalent of national service where the worst fate we may suffer is a luxury tax on lattes. The only response to such asinine positivity is to ask what planet these people live on.

They may indignantly say "we are not Latvia" where, under the IMF, grizzled peasants are paid a hundred euro a month to cut hogweed.

But Ireland is Latvia for neither of us is paying our bills, and if our new Axis of Bankers wants us to cut hogweed that is what we will do.

This new status means we should not be too critical about the ignorance of our ministers, such as the Bert-and-Ernie style comical duo of Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern.

Though it may come as a terrible shock to the more egotistical ones, they, and the Taoiseach for that matter, are not important any more.

This is a big game and we are a small power.

Ireland is, like the poor Czechs in 1938, a small unimportant country in a wrong place that is out of options.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance could bluff all they wanted. But, like the Sudetenland in 1938 where the plucky Czechs were told by their irritated allies that Mr Hitler "is a pretty straight guy", only the deluded, the deceitful or the obtuse could mistake the clarity of the message Europe was sending us.

We will have our four-year plan and our takeover by the Axis of Bankers while a secret consensus between all sides means we will even find some way to scramble through a budget -- for our terrified Government does not want the Budget to fall.

After that, if only because it is so unimportant, we will be allowed to make the sovereign choice to decimate the parties that have led us to that desolate place to be forever known in future as a land called "we are where we are".

Sunday Independent

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