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Leadership on view is bankrupt

IT is hard to believe, but our political leaders were once giants who built a functioning nation from the Ground Zero of a civil war and centuries of enervating colonial rule.

The impact they had on the people is best captured by a story from Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv about Dev's last election where a 90-year-old woman refused a lift and walked the six miles to the polling booth as a final gesture of loyalty to the Chief.

It is a somewhat self-regarding tale, but at its close de Valera's grandson warned that if Fianna Fail ever lost its "high ideals" it would swiftly decline from "a national movement to a very ordinary party with very modest support".

That was 1997, and Fianna Fail is learning the truth of it the hard way, for it is not where it is now because of "communications issues".

Instead a party that appears to have even lost the will to survive has built its own tomb from graft, the franchise-based politics of the focus group and a loss of any concept that politics is a vocation centred on the betterment of the nation through the courageous implementation of new ideas.

When it comes to the current political scene, it has all left us in quite the mess. The 16th-Century Dutch scholar Erasmus once famously observed that "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king". Last week, however, amidst the series of political games of blind man's bluff that went on between the various Fianna Fail factions, the Opposition and Fianna Fail, and finally (and most risibly of all) between Fine Gael and Labour, it was hard to even spot a one-eyed man in Leinster House.

There was no doubting, of course, that the blindest one of all was our destroyed Taoiseach. Fianna Fail's Prodigal Son has, not that it matters too much in the crony -centred world of this most clubbable of idiots, utterly lost the confidence of the people he purports to represent.

Like a latter-day Mr Magoo, far from reforming himself, the man who simply will not see keeps on stumbling into inanimate objects as he mumbles a uniquely personal school of demented gibberish about mandates and jobs to be done.

It would be a comfort were it to be the case that at least one of our alternatives was in the full of his political health. Instead it increasingly appears to be the case that Mr Cowen's challengers are as blind as the king.

Mr Gilmore has visibly not progressed beyond the role of being a recruiting major for outrage, while Enda Kenny -- and more importantly still, his advisers -- appear to believe that the only way he can secure power is via the sort of guerrilla war whereby he secures the Taoiseach's office by stealth.

Within Fianna Fail, when it comes to their sole credible candidate, in so far as he is campaigning for the post at all, Micheal Martin's pitch appears to be that, like the famous Bobby Ewing shower scene in the popular soap opera Dallas, we are supposed to believe the last 14 years of FF rule was all just a dream and we can begin anew with Micheal.

It would be tempting, but not completely correct, to suggest this latest episode in the death of Fianna Fail was a mere comic operetta. Instead, more than any series of manifestoes, it provided us with a chilling lesson in the bankruptcy of the political class which is supposed to lead us through the great economic war.

Sadly, once again, last week's events suggested that whilst the enemies we face are real, the generals competing to lead us actually belong to the set of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Sunday Independent