Cowen: No Rocking of the Big Boats

There will be no change, aside from a few faces. Even if Mary Harney goes, there will be no change. By Vincent Browne


There will be a change of style, government will be brisker with him and maybe more efficient. There will be maybe two new faces, well two different faces, in the cabinet. The seat of government will move from St Luke's to Tullamore. There will be less doe-eyed empathy for the coalition partners. No Tribunal embarrassments, until Bertie's final embarrassment. A figure-head Minister for Finance, as in some of Charlie Haughey's days. But otherwise, same old, same old

Certainly no policy change, except cosmetically. A lot of Gaeilge, but forget about the promises of equity and the 1916 Proclamation, especially the bit about cherishing the children of the nation equally.

Garret FitzGerald has credited Brian Cowen with insisting, while Foreign Minister, that, at the UN Security Council in the autumn of 2002 the Irish representative, Richard Ryan, make clear an invasion of Iraq could not take place without a further UN Security Council authorising resolution. Yes that was done OK, but when the invasion went ahead without such authorisation, Ireland aided and abetted the escapade which, implicitly, it (Ireland) had stated previously, would be illegal. No problem.

There are tricky issues ahead.

The Lisbon Treaty
As things are going the only momentum there is, is with the rejectionist side. And the problem for the Euro-enthusiasts is there is no compelling argument to vote yes, other than the governments of other member states will be annoyed if we vote no. There is no money in this for the Irish people, which was the incentive to approve past changes to the EU constitution. There is nothing to be lost except a bit of face on the part of the government. The EU will be discommoded somewhat but not imperilled. And there is the argument about the utter unintelligibility of the Treaty.

Consider the following from the Treaty:

9) Article 7 shall be amended as follows:

(a) throughout the Article, the word “assent” shall be replaced by “consent”, the reference
to breach “of principles mentioned in Article 6(1)” shall be replaced by a reference to
breach “of the values referred to in Article 1a”, the words “of this Treaty” shall be
replaced by “of the Treaties” and the word “Commission” shall be replaced by
“European Commission”;

(b) at the end of the first sentence of the first subparagraph of paragraph 1, the words “and
address appropriate recommendations to that State” shall be deleted; at the end of the
last sentence, the words “and, acting in accordance with the same procedure, may call
on independent persons to submit within a reasonable time limit a report on the situation
in the Member State in question” shall be replaced by “and may address
recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure.”;

(c) in paragraph 2, the words “The Council, meeting in the composition of the Heads of
State or Government and acting by unanimity” shall be replaced by “The European
Council, acting by unanimity” and the words “the government of the Member State in
question” shall be replaced by “the Member State in question”;

There is not a single TD, with possibly one exception, who understands this. Not one of those urging acceptance of the Treaty has a clue what is means, bar possibly one. And the reason is because the Treaty was written by a handful of legal experts, who alone understood what they were doing, along with a few experts in each of the Member States.

Asking an electorate to approve or reject this is an insult to the electorate's entitlement to take a considered view on what they are being asked to approve or disapprove. The government has made no serious effort to enable the electorate to make up its own mind, for instance by pushing a compendium of the existing Treaties and showing how the Lisbon Treaty would amend that.

The Institute of European Affairs, one of the fan clubs for the European Union, has published a consolidated version of the Treaties as amended by the Lisbon Treaty but it is impossible to decipher from this what changes the Lisbon Treaty would inaugurate, so no help in finding out what the Lisbon Treaty means.

The possibly one exception referred to above is Dick Roche, who has drive himself demented in the Euro cause and little enough thanks will he get whatever the outcome.

The Pay Deal

There is then the pay deal, which has been hugely complicated by the crass insolence of ministers in first awarding themselves a huge salary increase, right at the time when they were about to urge pay restraint on those earning a fraction of their earnings. And then, adding insult to insult, merely deferring their increase until such time as the populace can be talked into moderating their wage demands.
The average wage in society, according to Brian Cowen in a written answer to a Dáil question a few months ago, is €34,000. Why should anyone on the average wage or below pay heed to the demands for restrain by those earning up to 10 times that and beyond?

The Mary Harney Question

Then there is the Mary Harney question. Getting rid of her out of Health would not just be a popular initiative but almost certainly one conducive to sorting out the health system. She has proved conclusively she cannot do the job but more than that she has now become part of the problem.

Writing in the Irish Times on Tuesday, 22 April, Fintan O'Toole, suggested Michael McGimpsey be borrowed from Northern Ireland to run the Department of Health and Children because of his success in that role in the North, as compared with the shambles Mary Harney has caused here. He pointed out: “In December 2006, Mary Harney's taskforce on the A&E crisis set a deadline of February 1st, 2007, for a detailed plan to reduce the target waiting time to six hours - a goal it declared “realistic”. The first anniversary of that deadline has come and gone to the sound of silence. So has the second anniversary of Mary Harney's declaration that the state of our A&Es is ‘a national emergency'”.

Politically, there are plusses and minuses about getting rid of Mary Harney. The pluses are the chances of getting an improvement in the health service would be improved and that would be a significant political gain. Also removing Mary Harney from the cabinet would consign the PDs to final oblivion and Fianna Fail would be the major beneficiaries.

The one minus is it would signal Brian Cowen was less adept at running a coalition partnership than Bertie Ahern and it might frighten the Greens.

The Economy and the Poor
With the economy growing at around 1.5 per cent at best and exchequer finances going into significant deficit, hard choices have to be made and, inevitably, they will be made at the expense of “the big spending departments”: health, education and social welfare. The significance of this is, again, the less well off will bear the brunt of the fall in national output, not the lavishly well-off. The talk of equity will soften. Much more about the courage to take the hard choices, the hard choices being to ravage the poor.
The cut backs already in education and in health are biting and there will be no question of offsetting these by higher taxation because we have talked ourselves into a low-tax culture, low tax that is s fare the taxes affecting the rich but high tax as far as the taxes impacting most on the poor, notably VAT.

The Cabinet
Many of the familiar faces will be there: Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, Micheál Martin, Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, Willie O'Dea and Brian Lenihan. The doubts surround only Martin Cullen, Seamus Brennan and Eamon O'Caoimh. But it makes no difference. There will be no policy changes, no change of direction, no rocking of any boats, especially the big boats.

The Bertie Factor

This could be the trickiest of all, although his departure makes it a little less difficult.

It is now evident Bertie Ahern got a significant sum or sums of money – multiples of his then salary – from as yet unknown sources while he was Minister for Finance in 1994. There can be no innocent explanation for this for if there were we would have been told of this long ago and Bertie Ahern spared a great deal of hassle. The unfortunate likelihood is that the conclusion of the Planning Tribunal about all this will be that Bertie Ahern received a corrupt payment or payments from some where in 1994; that he was untruthful in his evidence to the Tribunal and that he obstructed the Tribunal.

For Fianna Fail this will be a major embarrassment in the wake of Tribunal revelations concerning Charles Haughey, Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor and Padraigh Flynn. It will be a further embarrassment for those who supported Bertie Ahern through the think and thin of the Tribunal revelations when it was glaringly obvious that he had no plausible explanations for the huge amounts of money swirling around in his accounts in that period.

An immediate issue may well be demands for further enquires into other issues concerning Bertie Ahern, as occurred in the case of Charles Haughey.

But there must come a stage when the torrent of evidence concerning corruption on the part of people prominent in Fianna Fail does serious damage to the credibility and standing of the party.

The challenge posed by this could be the most formidable facing the new leader and Taoiseach.