The 'new politics' looks much like the old

Rather than the media being to blame, it is politicians who are the real culprits in trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse. By Vincent Browne.

Pat Rabbitte, in wistful recollection of Michael McDowell, recently quoted with approval from a newspaper article in which the former Progressive Democrat leader had written about "the over-weening power of the media as principals in our politics".

McDowell went on: "They [the media] are increasingly trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse".

Just a year ago, Fine Gael and Labour were elected to government on promises that the huge colossus of debt from the banks' losses that had been inflicted on the Irish people would be reduced - ie, written down.

Fine Gael said: "Fine Gael believes that the IMF/EU bailout deal has not and will not restore investor confidence in our country, and must therefore be renegotiated to reduce the interest rate and to ensure a fairer sharing of the cost of fixing Ireland's broken banks.”

Readers will recall Eamon Gilmore's finger-wagging: "It's either Labour's way or Frankfurt's way" - a promise to defy the ECB over the debt burden and over the terms of the EU-IMF bailout generally.

Had either of these parties said before the election: "We will not even seek a writedown of the debt associated with the banks' losses; we will merely seek a reduction in the interest rate and perhaps a rescheduling of the debt over a longer time," what would the public reaction have been? How many seats would Fine Gael and Labour have won? They might still have obtained a majority, but what is irrefutable is that a large number of people voted for these parties because there was a clear understanding they would at least press relentlessly for a writedown of the debt.

So who is trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse?

Both parties promised that, in everything they did to cope with the economic crisis, they would protect the vulnerable. Given what appears to many as the targeting of the vulnerable, who is it that is trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse?

Fine Gael promised an end to the "old politics" and comprehensive political reform. Crucial to that, under the heading "Fine Gael will hold government to account", was the commitment: "Fine Gael believes that an over-powerful Executive has turned the Dáil into an observer of the political process, rather than a central player, and that must be changed."

Last Wednesday, a Fine Gael TD, Peter Mathews, proposed at the Oireachtas Finance Committee that Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank and a member of the Council of the European Central Bank (ECB), be called before the Committee before the end of March to give his perspective on why, it seems, the ECB is insisting on Ireland paying €3.1 billion by the end of the month on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note - especially since this payment will not go anywhere except into the ether.

Word came down from Enda Kenny's office that this motion must be opposed, on the grounds that any such inquiries by an Oireachtas Committee might compromise negotiations under way with the ECB on the promissory note. Even if that were so, surely it was a matter for the Committee itself to decide the appropriateness of calling Patrick Honohan before it.

So, a committee of the Oireachtas (which, supposedly, is one of the agencies that holds the government to account) was instructed by the Government to cease holding it to account (for that would have been the effect of the session), and a majority on the committee instantly complied - or, rather, would have complied, had all members of the committee bothered to turn up.

In other words, precisely the same carry-on that prevailed under the "old politics" now continues under the "new politics". And the promise that "Fine Gael will hold government to account" turns out to be as meaningless as any of the other promises. So who is it that is trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse?

This latter issue of obstructing the Oireachtas Committee to conduct inquiries on our Anglo debt payments is hugely significant. The contracting of the bank debt by the last government was probably the most monstrous decision taken by any Irish government since the Civil War, and the abject refusal of the present government even to seek a writedown of that debt compounds the monstrosity of that decision.

And in spite of the significance of this, and the impact it will have on future generations, there is to be no public inquiry whatsoever into how all this happened, or into how this present government has handled the debt issue since coming to office.

If we had any doubts about the incapacity of an Oireachtas Committee to undertake an independent inquiry into this, we now know, from what happened last Wednesday, that this is quite impossible; and how right the Supreme Court was to bar such inquiries; and how right the Irish people were to refuse to give Oireachtas Committees the go-ahead to conduct such inquiries. Only a tribunal of inquiry could now do the job and, happily for the government, there is a plausible pretext for avoiding that. So there will be no inquiry at all.

Pat Rabbitte and Michael McDowell might have had a point about the media, but who are the real culprits in trivialising, distorting and denigrating our political process and discourse? {jathumbnailoff}

Image top: The Labour Party.