If politics occasionally puts you between a rock and a hard place, then that is exactly where Irish PM Brian Cowen finds himself right now. There is no joy whatever in the position he holds, nor the options that confront him.
I got to know him a bit when he was foreign minister in Bertie Ahern’s government during some of the most tense and difficult moments of the Northern Ireland peace process. He may not be the best-looking or the most charismatic politician on the planet, but he has a sharp mind, a good wit, and is pretty good at keeping calm in a crisis.
He will be needing all those qualities right now. The word crisis is one of the most overused in the political lexicon, but what Brian Cowen faces is a genuine crisis, and one with implications that go beyond his own shores or his own political future.
And of course even if the person at the head of the crisis management operation is ok at keeping the head, the chances of others losing theirs is high. He has a meeting of his Fianna Fail MPs tonight and already some are warning that nothing short of blood on the carpet will satisfy them.
Bertie Ahern’s autobiography is full of stories of what the Irish love to call ‘a heave’ – namely a sometimes subtle and often less subtle attempt to force the departure of the man at the top. Bertie survived a fair few, as did his mentor, Charlie Haughey. There seems little doubt Brian Cowen will be facing one some time soon, possibly right now.
As to whether it will help or hinder the crisis of the management, that is not certain. Clearly it suits the other parties to press for an election, with the almost certain departure of the government, and a new one coming in to make the difficult decsions required. And to those of his colleagues calling for his departure such a thing might seem blindingly obvious. But as to whether it will stem the crisis, or merely add fuel to its fire, is a more balanced call.
Alastair, these are febrile days and nights in Irish and European politics. We had an eighteen month old daughter of a Green TD on the platform when they announced they were ‘half’ pulling out of government and commentators on TV last night suggesting the choice between the two traditional ‘leader parties’ being like choosing a brand of condom after you’ve become pregnant.
The IMF will have set the parameters for a budget but within that there are choices and alternatives. Cutbacks will cut growth and stymie the process. Only with a growth led budget will we be able to emerge with a viable economy.
The Labour party stand with a chance now of becoming the largest party in the Dáil at the next election. This chance may not come again to redefine politics from Civil War fixated to one of genuine choice as you are fortunate to have in Britain. Hopefully we will sieze it.
Former Fianna Fail Chief Whip Tom Kitt said on the radio this morning that he will be canvassing the FF TDs for the 18 signatures necessary for a vote of no confidence in the party leader. I would be surprised if he survived into the teen days of December!
Not likeyou to sit on the fence … are you saying the ones calling on him to go are wrong? For my part, I would love it if this allowed Ireland to shake up the entire political system so we get parties left to right as you have them, as opposed to groupings rooted in our history
The choices he confronts are not great, but nor are the choices the people face when we get an election. The economy is knackered, so is our politics and the Celtic tiger feels like a long ago dream … People are getting on with their lives but that elusive thing confidence feels very distant
In 2006 George Osborne said that we should look and learn from across the Irish Sea.
Well, I hope the Tories will not follow the Irish example now as their deficit will be 30% of GDP and debt 120%. And unemployment is at 14%.
So the coalition would be wise not to follow the “Irish miracle”. But will they copy it? It does not look good at the moment.
Whatever position you take on the Irish bail-out it is in no-one’s interests to lap up some of the cant that is surrounding it. When George Osborne talks about ‘a friend in need’, ‘in the national interest’ and good neighbourliness, it should be borne in mind that, as a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy (the Ascendancy), he is set to inherit the Baronetcy of Ballentaylor (County Tipperary) and Ballylemon ( County Waterford), a Baronetcy dating back to 1629. In other words there is a not insubstantial private interest involved in what he calls ‘the national interest. Also there is said to be a £50 billion credit exposure of British banks to Irish borrowers, so the UK’s bilateral loan and contribution to the EU/IMF £77 billion bail-out mark yet another thinly-disguised episode in the saga of British taxpayers bailing out the banks. Isn’t it the dear old private sector again being kept afloat from the public purse while public services and the previous government are being scapegoated – as in the Irish Republic so in the UK.
Osborne didn’t create the defecit – Brown did. Osborne didn’t create lax bank supervision – Brown did. Osborne is trying to avoid the Irish model, not emulate it.
Whoever is running the Irish governmnent, they’ll get no sympathy from me or a good many others until they address their ridiculous attitude to corporate taxation.
It’s beggar-my-neighbour behaviour that is out of kilter with the spirit of international co-operation and support that they are receiving right now.
Lax bank supervision was created in the 1980s by successive Tory governments. Remember the ‘The Big Bang’? ‘The bonfire of controls’? Brown’s mistake was to do little to reinstate control – but then what power have national governments against international finance? The deficit was created in 2008 by taxpayers’ money being used to bail out the banks, which were on the verge of collapse. That deficit would have been created by whatever government was in office. In other words Chris – stop being duped by Coalition propaganda and a grovelling media and open your eyes.
Pure self deception Dave. I didn’t notice any major banking crises when supervision was under one body – the BoE. Split it between three and the obvious happens – they all thought someone else was doing it – pure stupidity.
As for the defecit being all down to the Banks – absolute crap. It certainly brought Brown’s disastrous stewardship to a head but the bank bail out cost a one-off £100bn – not insignificant I grant you – but pales when compared with the £150bn we will borrow this year – and there’s no bank bail out costs in that – it is all structural defecit.