Politics as usual

There was never any real prospect that a new government would be any more successful renegotiating the EU-IMF rescue deal than the outgoing Fianna Fail/Green government were in negotiating it, writes Vincent Browne.

Neither was there any prospect that the priorities which would inform the policies of the new government would be any different to that of the outgoing government: deference to markets and the financial powers, indifference to inequality, if not hostility to the idea of equality.

But many people thought a new government might change how we did politics, might seek to institute arrangements to make governments genuinely accountable. Many in the political science fraternity, got excited by microscopic alterations to Parliamentary committee systems and several of them are now touring the country with evangelical zeal trying to convert the populace to some new form of proportional representation. Fine Gael and Labour, together with the evangelical apostles in political science, miss the point big time. An incidental occurrence this past week underlined that.

On Wednesday morning last the Irish Times reported, under the heading: "Taoiseach, Tánaiste to decide on Public Accounts Committee post", that the new chairman of the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee would be decided by Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. And so it transpired.

It was not the members of the Committee who decided who their chairperson was to be. It was not the Dáil. It was not even the cabinet. It was the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and their writ ran via the whips system. The Fine Gael and Labour members of the Committee were instructed how to vote and they duly did as they were told. That's how our Parliament works.

The institution, our Parliament, that is supposed to hold the government to account, is at the beck and call of the government or rather the two leaders of the government, which means no accountability.

If Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore decide they would not like a Dáil committee inquiry into anything the government is up to or is proposing to be up to, they can click their fingers and there will be no inquiry. It is precisely this dysfunctional arrangement whereby the body that is to be held accountable controls the institution that is supposed to hold it accountable, that contributed so handsomely to the devastation of Ireland. And, by God, this present government is determined to ensure that nothing will change.

This impulse to control as much as can be controlled is exemplified by the conduct of Enda Kenny on the Presidential election issue. I am not referring to the attempt to foist Pat Cox on Fine Gael as its presidential candidate – Gay Mitchell, hardly the most popular member of the party, is being feted internally for putting paid to that folly. I am referring to the dictat to Fine Gael councillors around the country to ensure as far as they can – and unfortunately, they can in many instances – that none of the would-be independent candidates get endorsement from local councils. And the pusillanimous Fine Gael councillors around the country seem to be doing just as they are told, which means that the only hope of independent candidates getting local authority endorsement is confined to a handful of local authorities.

If Fianna Fail had ever got up to that wheeze in their heyday – and no doubt they did – they would have been ridiculed from a height by Fine Gaelers, who, anyway, are reflexively self-righteous, except when it comes to themselves. What it means is that Fine Gael is trying to ensure that the people have as restrictive a choice in the Presidential election that Fine Gael can engineer.

It might well be that David Norris fails to get a nomination because of these Fine Gael machinations, even though it is evident from the opinion polls that many people want him as a candidate and want him as President.

Clearly, the chances of him becoming President are lessened by the controversy over his remarks about pederasty but that is not the point. The point is whether the people should have the choice of electing him President and Fine Gael wants to ensure the people are denied that choice.

It is as good an argument for voting against the Fine Gael candidate for President as any other, although Pat Cox's candidature would offer persuasive reasons for doing so even independently of that.

Nobody seems too perturbed by the catalogue of broken promises even at this early stage, notably the promise to renegotiate the EU-IMF deal which Fine Gael said in its manifesto was "unsustainable". Nobody seems to mind much about the pathetic jobs initiative, or the prospect of property and water charges or higher level registration fees, not even about the concerted plan to immiserate the lower paid workers even more.

I suspect that is because of the universal joy to be rid of Fianna Fáil, rather than enthusiasm for the new crowd. Although, I have to concede that Enda has been a revelation. Far better as Taoiseach than anybody expected, even probably himself! Certainly much better than half his Parliamentary party thought a year ago.

But there is trouble ahead and perhaps the worst trouble may be that Fianna Fail-like urge to control everything that can be controlled. Plus no accountability at all, at all.