26 April 2009

Mill Stones around the Taoiseach's Neck

Today the Taoiseach Brian Cowen (right) addressed his party's usual annual Easter Rising Commemoration at Arbour Hill in Dublin.
As usual it was a sombre occasion, and perhaps even a bit more so this year, with all the dark clouds and bad news hanging over both Fianna Fáil and the government. But, robust as always, Cowen did not show any signs of weakness. Boldly he linked the battle for Dublin in 1916 with the current challenges facing this country in his first Arbour Hill speech as party leader and Taoiseach.

"The present battle for Ireland's economic stability and security will be won," Cowen told the gathering.
"I firmly believe that history will show that we were among the first countries to recognise the scale of the crisis and to put in place a comprehensive framework for recovery."

Well roared, for a wounded lion. And quite optimistic as well. But what about the reality?

Only hours before the event the Sunday Business Post published the latest Red C poll which shows Fianna Fáil at an all-time low point of 23% of public support and approval (see my earlier entry below).

And there is still the matter of John McGuinness (left), who lost his position as the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment in this weeks reshuffle that reduced the number of junior ministers from 20 to 15.
All twenty office holders collectively resigned, and then it was up to the
Taoiseach whom he would re-appoint or perhaps shift to another position. Seven of the 20 lost their ministerial jobs, 13 were re-appointed, and two new junior ministers were brought into government from the Fianna Fáil backbenches.

One of the seven losers was John McGuinness. The TD for Carlow & Kilkenny is undoubtedly the biggest surprise on the list of Brian Cowen's demotions.
Agile, bright and still quite popular (a rarety for a Fianna Fáil politician these days), McGuinness is one of the few people in his party with an understanding of business and the economy. Thus he was well-placed in the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, and in the two years he was there he actually came up with new ideas and new approaches. He also listened to critics and experts from outside the party, including the economist and columnist David McWilliams, who had warned the government over its economic follies for more than a decade.

But unfortunately McGuinness had a boss with absolutely no understanding of business and the economy. When Brian Cowen, after being elected Taoiseach less than a year ago, appointed Donegal TD Mary Coughlan (right) not only as his Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), but also moved her from Agriculture to Enterprise, Trade and Employment, many observers and commentators - myself included - raised eyebrows and wrote that it was not a good decision.

Coughlan, who is Ireland's version of Sarah Palin, gained her nickname 'the Cow' more for her personal attitudes and behaviour than for the reason that - during her time as Minister for Agriculture - she was often photographed in the company of cattle. She is now the second-least popular member of the cabinet, beaten to the bottom only by Health Minister Mary Harney (nicknamed 'Miss Piggy').
This has nothing to do with being female, but is a result of Coughlan's (and Harney's) complete imcompetence, combined with enormous arrogance.

It appears that John McGuinness made the mistake to speak his mind. He told Mary Coughlan that she was "not up to her job" and "better suited to her previous position in Agriculture".

'The Cow', who has no sense of humour, did not like this and urged the Taoiseach to sack her competent but inconvenient internal critic. If McGuinness remained in the department, she is reported to have said, she herself would "consider her position".
Brian Cowen obliged and returned John McGuinness to the backbenches, while stating that he has "full confidence" in his Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

This was quite typical for Cowen and shows once more that he is still putting the interests of the Fianna Fáil top brass way ahead of the interests of the country and nation.

The Irish (Gaelic) word Taoiseach means 'chieftain' or 'leader'. With his decision to keep Coughlan happy and sack McGuinness, Brian Cowen has demonstrated that he is - at best - a tribal chieftain (of the Fianna Fáil tribe), but not a true national leader. (A clever leader would have jumped at the chance to get rid of Mary Coughlan so easily and - instead of sacking John McGuinness - would have promoted him into her place, while giving the Tánaiste position to his hard-working Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.)

After losing his ministerial position, John McGuinness had some very effective appearances on various radio programmes and eventually - last Friday - on the popular Late Late Show on RTÉ television. This made him within a few days the unofficial spokesman of the so far ignored internal Fianna Fáil opposition, which is growing slowly but steadily.

In a statement to the media Brian Cowen said that he was "not aware of any discontent in the Fianna Fáil party". This is either a blatant lie, or a further example that he is completely out of touch with the realities in his own party and the country as a whole.

If he cannot see it for himself, someone should tell Brian Cowen that he is currently the most unpopular Taoiseach Ireland ever had. There are five heavy mill stones hanging around his neck, and if he does not get rid of them soon, they will drag him - and his party - down into disaster and eternal damnation.
The five mill stones are the Irish economy, Ireland's banks, Mary Coughlan, Mary Harney and Noel Dempsey (the Minister for Transport). Removing the three most incompetent ministers from his cabinet would not be difficult and could actually give him some desperately needed time to deal with the banks and the economy, the two really big problems. But will Brian Cowen listen, learn and open himself to reality? I somehow doubt it.

The Emerald Islander

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