| 12.8°C Dublin

Martina Devlin: Budget first -- then Government must go


WE want a General Election. We need a General Election. We deserve a General Election.

But we can't have one if we care about our country. Not yet. January -- that's the timeframe to aim for.

Two targets must be met first: the four-year plan for recovery has to go before Europe and the money markets in November; and a Budget must be passed in December. If we don't keep to this schedule our goose is cooked.

And we will be exposed not just as incompetents, but as a nation of buffoons, chancers and deadbeats.

An immediate election would be gratifying. It came home to me forcefully how dearly I long to cast my vote as I watched Éamon Ó Cuív on Vincent Browne's TV show on Tuesday night.

Previously, I never felt negatively toward him. Dev put his life on the line for Ireland, and physical courage in conjunction with idealism is beguiling, so there was trickledown goodwill toward his grandson, despite the havoc wreaked by his party.

That leniency evaporated precisely at the moment when Pontius Pilate Ó Cuív accepted no culpability for the economic collapse, blaming everything on the banks. His hands were unsoiled, his conscience unpolluted.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's the party line, after all. He is not the first minister to blame bankers, external economic pressures, aliens -- or all three.

But he has not always sung from the Fianna Fail hymn sheet, for example, arguing for a conditional return to the Commonwealth as a gesture to unionists. Why not show some of that independence of thought now, when the country needs it most? Why buckle on Fianna Fail's tin-pot breastplate?

This ostrich mentality infecting cabinet colleagues partly explains why ratings agency Fitch yesterday downgraded Ireland -- ominously warning of a further relegation if "broad-based political support for and implementation of" budgetary reform weakens. The money men have spoken. Only after we get the Budget through can we purge ourselves of this Government.

After Mr Ó Cuív's TV3 performance, it's time to accept that not a man or woman in the Cabinet should ever be allowed to hold portfolio again.

I accept that the minister does not lead his party, and perhaps he did not always agree with the decisions taken by those at the top. But he has sat at the Cabinet table for eight years. He and his fellow ministers need to show some personal responsibility -- they can't all cite Cardinal Connell's 'mental reservation' doctrine.

Here's one for Mr Ó Cuív. Wasn't the Galway tent in your constituency? You may say you never set foot in this reeking symbol of corruption and cronyism, but you belonged to the party which erected it.

On 'Tonight With Vincent Browne' Mr Ó Cuív claimed he was never approached by a member of the public expressing anger at Fianna Fail. That's like hearing the earth is flat, and the moon is made from a wheel of Cashel Blue.

Perhaps secret service agents kidnapped him and reprogrammed his memory. Perhaps he has been locked in Bertie Ahern's cupboard for the past two years. Perhaps -- and this is the most damning possibility -- he does not listen to the little people.

If he did, I doubt he would have defended the status symbol, unpardonable in these straitened times, of a government Mercedes with garda driver. Yet, he insisted there was no alternative.

HOW about driving himself, and taking calls on a hands-free set to do some work on route? How about living somewhere convenient to a train or bus station, if serving the people is as important to him as he suggests? He denied his chauffeured limousine costs the taxpayer €200,000 a year -- roughly six times the average industrial wage -- but was unable to offer an alternative figure.

The sense of entitlement betrayed by his answers was breathtaking. As was the remoteness from ordinary people and their struggles. Listening to him, I was in despair. The Minister for Social Protection was behaving like the minister for perks' protection. Yet he is among those charged with imposing around €4bn worth of pain on the population, via increased taxes and public service cuts.

Them and us: that's what Ireland has degenerated into. What kind of republic is that, minister? I ask it in particular of Éamon Ó Cuív because he represents a direct link to 1916.

Only the night before his woeful performance, I was spellbound by Joe Duffy's moving and powerful tribute to James Connolly on RTE's 'Ireland's Greatest' series. (Connolly gets my vote.) It was a reminder of how debased our founding fathers' ideals have become.

Ideals are difficult to live up to, of course, but there is no common ground between the Ireland envisaged by these revolutionaries and the Ireland created by their political heirs.

Mr Ó Cuív's amnesia/spin* (*delete as appropriate) about the causes of the downturn was not just farcical, it was profoundly disturbing.

His party is supposed to have a four-year plan for guiding us back from the abyss. But Fianna Fail is in no position to lead: its image has been tarnished by a number of deeply suspect decisions, and by the dishonesty of some of its politicians.

I don't contend that all Fianna Fail politicians are corrupt, but the party's ethos is distinctly sulphurous. It needs to be fumigated.

Speaking of smells, sniff the air and there's an unmistakeable whiff of election footing. Good politics sometimes make for bad economics, however. Let's get this Budget through before calling an election and dissolving the most undemocratic Dail in the State's history.

And if the new Dail has a motto, it should be Honesty Above All.


Irish Independent