17 October 2008

Brian Cowen at the Crossroads

A half-point cut in interest rates by the world's most important central banks has failed to halt the slide on the international stock markets, and the massive infusion of billions into the desolate banks of many western countries seems not to achieve the desired affect either.
It appears that those who control the immense multi-national gambling dens - known as stock exchanges - know something that central banks and governments do not know.

And even though I am no economist, I can imagine what this extra knowledge is: The fact that the whole system of US-led western capitalism is totally over-hyped and under-capitalised. Sooner or later this house of cards will collapse completely and leave all of us with gaping mouths and staring eyes - staring into the abyss.

Unless - that is - we do something drastic about the financial 'markets', and do it fast.

The Irish economist, author and commentator David McWilliams has made a good suggestion on the Questions & Answers programme on RTE 1 television two weeks ago. He suggested to establish an independent investigation unit - something in the style and with the authority of the famous 'Untouchables' under Eliot Ness, which cleaned up Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s - to sort out the mess, mismanagement and corruption in the finance sector.

In my opinion this is an excellent idea, and one can only hope that Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan are taking David's advice, as they have done with the state guarantee for the bank's deposits and loans.
But time is of the essence, and the usual Irish procrastination could lead us into a huge disaster. The State has instruments already in place - such as the Financial Regulator and the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) - and an independent investigation unit could be formed in a relatively short time, if the government has the will to do it.

Brian Cowen, who inherited the prime-ministerial mantle from Bertie Ahern only in May of this year, is approaching his political and personal crossroads. Which direction he chooses will have detrimental and long-lasting affects on him, his reputation, his party, the government and the whole of Ireland.
Depending on his choice of policies, Cowen could become either the most unpopular Taoiseach in Irish history and the greatest failure in political leadership we have ever seen, or - if he rises to the challenge - he could achieve almost heroic stature and great popularity for himself and his party.

So what is it going to be? I don't know, and at this stage really nobody does. But the next few weeks will be crucial and make all the difference.

With the unpopular new measures introduced by Brian Lenihan in the 2009 Budget on Tuesday - especially the scandalous withdrawal of medical cards for the over 70-year-olds - the pressure is mounting on Cowen and his government.
Already one TD - Joe Behan from Wicklow - has resigned from Fianna Fáil over the matter, and the independent Dublin TD Finian McGrath is contemplating to withdraw his support from the government coalition as well.

Now is the time to act, and act decisively, otherwise Brian Cowen could be out of office faster than he got into it.

While only a year ago the new government - formed after the 2007 election - looked safe, stable and settled in for the full five years, almost all of this stability has disappeared in recent weeks. The prospect of an early general election is no longer a far-away figment of wishful thinking.
With the - widely self-inflicted - damage to the government it is now a realistic and ever more looming possibility.

The Emerald Islander

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