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John Drennan: Reshuffle will fail to save flawed tragic hero Cowen

The infamous rump parliaments may have sat for 13 years before Mr Cromwell assailed the assembly that had 'sat too long for any good you might be doing lately'.

Sadly our rump have only been back for a month and already we're in 'go, in-the-name-of-God mode'.

The good news is that despite all those denials last week that the wheels were coming off the FF-Green hearse we may be about to secure that which we most desire.

When you see a Fianna Fail Taoiseach snarling about smears and innuendos, ministers resigning by the week and a level of backbench apathy that is so acute the chief whip has to plead with his TDs to vote, it's hard to avoid the impression that we are on an election countdown.

Last week even the opposition rhetoric had a genuine pre-election feel as Eamon Gilmore issued a cutting critique of a fatigued government led by a Taoiseach 'obsessed by the desire to cover the tracks of his time as Minister for Finance'.

Surprisingly Enda Kenny was even more acute in his claim that a country where '437,000 people are on the live register, a further 70,000 are projected to lose their jobs this year, credit is not flowing from banks to business, the public service is facing serious unrest', is not being governed well.

For now though the only election Mr Cowen is in a mood to give us is the race to become Dublin's new Lord Mayor.

In contrast when it came to the real crisis of governance we are facing the Taoiseach engaged in the political equivalent of spreading turpentine on the ground to divert the hounds courtesy of a major cabinet reshuffle.

It worked on the political stenographers who quickly worked themselves up into a lather over 'dramas' such as Mr Cowen's cunning plan to change the names of a couple of departments.

But it is unlikely the real world will be overly excited by Mr Cowen's proposals to create the Irish public sector equivalent of James Hacker's infamous Department of Administrative Affairs in Yes, Minister.

Instead the cruel truth is that a reshuffle simply will not work because the political and economic game has moved on.

If Mr Cowen had at the start of his reign torn up the way we are governed by its roots he might have caught our attention.

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But that would have presumed the 'anointed' one had a plan before he got into office and we know to our immeasurable cost that as with the rest of his achievement-free career this man was winging it.

The problem he now faces, however, is that the public knows we are not in freefall because no one knows what Eamon O Cuiv does.

And while Mary Coughlan must go, it is difficult to see how replacing her with some beardless youth will allow us to take on vicious interest groups such as the Dublin Airport Authority and Aer Lingus.

Nothing can disguise the fact that Cowen's reshuffle kerfuffle is a desperate attempt to hide our status as a broken country.

Mr Lenihan may have made €4 billion worth of cuts in the last Budget but we are still trading our way towards insolvency in a manner that would embarrass a League of Ireland soccer club.

It is bad enough that our banks are essentially bankrupt but what is even more serious is that their crisis of funding is threatening to sink the rest of the economy, for outside of multinationals and public sector workers, enterprise in Ireland is dead.

Our junior civil servants are engaging in a civil war against the Government where the public and transparency in government have been the main casualties.

On the streets we are experiencing the sort of casual slaughter last seen in the build-up to the murder of Veronica Guerin while nothing epitomises the gulf between the cosseted mandarins of the public sector and the people more than the Ryanair debacle.

Ultimately the most dispiriting feature is a collapse of national morale epitomised by the sight of the best qualified young Irish workforce ever queueing outside head shops to purchase bath salts and plant food for kicks.

The Cabinet is right to claim we are not experiencing a reprise of the Eighties for the nation is now under the sort of jackboot of hopelessness that has not been seen since the Fifties.

A context such as this means a reshuffle is like changing the deckchairs as they slide across the sinking bow of the Titanic.

Ireland is experiencing its own 'Greek tragedy' for hubris and incredible carelessness has brought us to a place of despair.

And Mr Cowen and a political system that is on trial will only regain the support of the public if some price is paid by the elite.

The price is that those who caused this crisis must go before the people to account for their actions and seek the consent of the public for their solutions.

Mr Cowen may dodge all he likes but a government that has been hollowed out by its own incompetence is not fit for purpose and the rot starts at the top.

Self-interest will, of course, say no, but if Mr Cowen is the thinking patriot his supporters claim him to be he must realise the current cabal has to go if only because they no longer have the moral authority or the mandate to lead a national renaissance.

An election might work out better for Mr Cowen than he thinks for if Brian puts it up to 'scary' Enda to prove he has a more compelling narrative than 'pick me it's my turn', FF and FG could yet be 'rivals' for the hand of Gilmore.

In truth the matter may yet be taken out of the Taoiseach's hands. It could be the status of Dan Boyle as the real Taoiseach or Mr Cowen's inability to escape from his ancient 'if in doubt leave them out' attitude to Coalition or the weight of the banks indebtedness or some tribunal timebomb like Bertie. '


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