Sunday 21 July 2019

Gene Kerrigan: The sad truth is, Enda Kenny's a chicken

As the crisis unfolds our leaders want us to bury our heads in the sand, just like them, writes Gene Kerrigan

What's on tomorrow's political news agenda? Some minister may be exposed for spending over the odds for a hotel room on a visit to foreign parts. Some politician most of us don't care about will attack some politician we wish we'd never heard of.

And the political journalists (and no one else) will get excited about some short-lived development in the fiscal treaty campaign.

Any or all or none of these might top the headlines. There's one thing that we can be pretty sure will be way down the news agenda. That's the gift of €2.25bn that we're bestowing tomorrow on another lucky bunch of rich people. It probably won't even rate a mention.

There's real news -- and there's the stuff with which we distract ourselves. To find an example of real news, put bondwatchireland into Google. You'll find Diarmuid O'Flynn's small blog, where he chronicles the relentless flow of wealth from Irish citizens to the reckless bank bondholders.

Two-and-a-quarter billion tomorrow. Almost eight million on Wednesday, 50 million next Saturday, 57 million the following Monday . . . and on and on and on. Reckless rich people -- in the UK, Germany, France -- bet on AIB and Bank of Ireland and Anglo. The Irish banksters in turn gambled on property speculators -- and they all lost. And we, who had no role in creating this debt, are directed to pay the bondholders, as though they won.

Meanwhile, on the front pages . . .

Enda the Bondholders' Friend smiles for yet another photo opportunity, and runs away from yet another debate. And Mr Gilmore tells us about staying at the heart of Europe. And he does so in exactly the same belligerent tone of voice he used when he warned us against Frankfurt's Way.

We are careless in our choice of leaders, and cowardly in our failure to hold them to account.

In truth, we can hardly blame our leaders, when those around them are so gutless. They twist and turn and say whatever suits their

interests of the moment -- knowing there will be no consequences if they say the exact opposite tomorrow.

Ruairi Quinn must have braced himself for the backlash when he decided to stick it to third-level students. He knew there were photos and video around of him signing a solemn pledge not to introduce fees. Backlash came there none.

Last week saw the first anniversary of the Eamon Gilmore scandal. It caused a brief stir this time last year, until the political journalists decided that stability demands that we brush such embarrassing stuff under the carpet. (In recent times, the country, the economy, the currency and the EU have all been destabilised, as a direct result of policies said to be aimed at creating stability.)

It would be obnoxious to raise the Gilmore scandal on the anniversary, wouldn't it? So, let's do so.

Here's the question: did Eamon Gilmore deliberately deceive the citizenry by pretending to hold one position, while secretly informing the US embassy that his real position was the reverse? Or, did someone in the US embassy create a false paper trail in order to undermine the leader of the Labour Party?

Briefly -- when the Lisbon Treaty was first rejected, Gilmore said there must be no second referendum. After a while, he claimed there was sufficient change to justify another referendum. Later, Wikileaks published a memo in which the US ambassador reported to the State Department. It said that Gilmore secretly told the embassy, five days after vigorously rejecting another Lisbon vote, that he wanted a second referendum. But it was "politically necessary" that he say the opposite publicly.

Gilmore denied all this. The media mostly ignored the scandal. Hardly anyone in the Labour Party seemed to care. If the Tanaiste is right, someone -- perhaps the CIA -- forged the memo, knowing that a later leak would undermine Gilmore. Who knows, perhaps the whole Wikileaks phenomenon was a CIA plot to get Gilmore.

Does no one in the Labour Party care about whether they have A) an untrustworthy leader, or B) an honest leader under foul attack from a foreign power?

The lack of curiosity about this -- from the Taoiseach, the Cabinet, the Labour Party hierarchy and the wider Labour Party -- is astonishing. Or, it would be, if it wasn't entirely in character.

Likewise, the succession of Fine Gael TDs who find it difficult to conceal their embarrassment as they publicly defend Enda Kenny. They look uncomfortable defending a political leader determined to avoid any debate or interview in which he cannot control the format and evade difficult questions.

Whatever the question, Enda is used to responding with packaged remarks, speeches, soundbites. Which is why he must avoid any circumstances in which he can't hide behind advisers, spin doctors, scripts and briefing papers.

His underlings know the truth. And they know that we know the truth. The truth is a thing with feathers. Enda is chicken.

It's an oddity: a 61-year-old politician who so lacks confidence in his own ability to master the subtleties of his job. So afraid of being rumbled that he runs around the country, waving at cameras, rather than engage in a reasoned debate on matters that may determine our future.

It's not a question of intelligence or interest. Kenny is a nice, concerned man, as bright as most of us, who knows how to pull the levers that make his party, and his Government, respond. He and Gilmore would make tolerable leaders in easy times.

Enda would smile for the cameras, Eamon would make gruff speeches to stir the troops. In a time of national emergency, they are weak and ineffectual. Others, with their own national and class agendas, have taken over the running of this country. Quite apart from the ECB and the IMF, decisions about our future are made within the EU structures, when ministers and heads of government meet.

What happens, some wonder, when Enda Kenny is behind closed doors, with EU leaders, without his props? What happens at those meetings where the future of our children is decided?

Well, we know what happens. We've seen him treated in public, by Nicolas Sarkozy, as something of a fondly-regarded puppy. As Sarkozy tickled Enda's neck in front of the cameras, and Enda giggled, is there anyone who didn't flinch? No other national leader anywhere on the planet would dare be so casually and patronisingly handled -- tickled with affection, a pleasingly responsive pet.

Across the EU, he -- and we -- are treated as the suppliant ones. And that is indeed the policy of this Government. Supplication -- then, appeals for fairness, for a dig-out -- if dat do be pleasing to ye, sir. In a ferocious world where other governments, bankers and financiers go to work in hobnailed boots, our leaders wear carpet slippers.

This is why we so studiously concern ourselves with trivia as billions are siphoned out of the country. It's why the current referendum campaign has been conducted in bogus terms, about jobs and growth and where we'll get the money for another bailout.

We've hit the iceberg, bankers load the lifeboats with billions of our euros -- our leaders ask us to discuss the dessert menu.

Sunday Independent

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