‘Dispossessed’ senators and TDs the Achilles heel of Government

IN MY youth, I was obliged to attend Sunday Services.

The preacher would commence each sermon, with reference to a text from that day’s Scripture reading. At which point my mind would wander as he extrapolated from the narrative to provide a modern-day context.

Today’s column is based on recalling the historical story from HMS Bounty in 1789. Capt Bligh’s command was subject to mutiny, led by Fletcher Christian, whereby 18 sailors openly revolted. Taoiseach Enda Kenny can expect similar murmurings in the fallout of poll results last week. Backbenchers’ first and last commandment is always “thou shalt not lose thy seat”. They fear for their own demise.

The crushing defeat of FG’s presidential candidate is without precedent; 6.4% represents an all-time disaster — beyond the worst nightmares of party strategists. Gay Mitchell was never a presidential prospect. The extent of his abrasiveness to opponents, media and anyone in his line of fire was roundly rejected by voters, including diehard party loyalists. This characteristic was known from the start. Campaign managers failed utterly to rein in such excesses. On the Frontline programme he ended up attacking the presenter and audience. His combative zeal was a major turnoff. €800,000 is said to have been spent (wasted) on the abortive campaign, with no refund. Before he now blames party colleagues and organisation, he should look in the mirror.

Of greater concern to TDs and senators will be the 14.7% first preference tally in the Dublin West by-election. This predominantly middle-class urban constituency rebuffed FG with alacrity since February. Councillor Kieran Dennison may have done marginally better than Councillor Eithne Loftus. It would be foolhardy not to heed alarm bells of voter volatility. The Labour victor campaigned on his anti-Coalition credentials. Fianna Fáil found out, the floor of the party core vote can be so fickle that it reaches meltdown levels. No seat is safe when the tide goes out. The consequences of these poor performances can be contained within the party. The same cannot be said for the referendum debacle.

Defeat of the Oireachtas inquiry amendment was woeful. Champagne corks popped over Halloween amongst the elite. Prospects of former bankers, developers, politicians and regulators appearing before a public investigation have evaporated. Accountability in this state has taken a severe step backwards. Majority media opinion supported a Yes vote. Eight attorneys general successfully threw sand in the eyes of the electorate. Ministers were complacent and sleepwalked to defeat. Kenny and Gilmore contented themselves with happy clappy photo opportunities with ‘yes + yes’ posters. The Cabinet failed to collectively promulgate a communications offensive to explain how individual rights would be safeguarded and rebut notions of kangaroo courts. Numerous ministers were not available for interview.

Dropping a repeat referendum, with a revised wording, is unacceptable. Issues of compellability of witnesses and a meaningful inquisitorial role for parliament cannot be discarded. The role of the Referendum Commission has to be scrutinised. Their advertisement campaign was again an unfunny joke — failing to explain net issues. Commission chairperson Judge McMahon clearly implied individuals may not have any legal rights, scaring the bejaysus out of ordinary householders. Only big fish, with their well-heeled professionals to defend them, need have feared transparent justice.

The fate of promised Children’s Rights referendum, abolition of the Seanad, reform of the Dáil electoral system, several other referendums promised in the Programme for Government and the entire concept of the Constitutional Convention, face similar prospects of rejection unless defects in the Commission are confronted.

This Cabinet failed its first test of persuading the public. More important challenges confront the Government in convincing sceptical voters. They don’t grasp the enormity of unfairness in their approach to key issues around economic recovery. Simultaneously, FG/Labour ask us to accept contradictions of approaches by NAMA and the Keane report. The top 110 debtors are given €10 million for salaries/allowances, while ordinary mortgagors are rebuffed with zero debt forgiveness. Greek sovereign bond holders are obliged to absorb 50% losses, while Anglo Irish Bank bondholders were yesterday repaid €700m in full settlement, from the defunct insolvent institution.

Parity? My ass.

The outcome of the latest EU summit represents another blow to Government credibility. Irish citizens are asked to suck up full repayment of €70 billion of nationalised bank debt. Promissory notes of €30bn have to be repaid at 8% annually. It seems we’ll now never know the full circumstances of the blanket bank guarantee in September 2008. That Government bluff was called in spades, resulting in nationalisation of Anglo, AIB, EBS, Nationwide and PTSB. While continental banks are to be recapitalised by €106bn, with access to the revamped EFSF, poor Paddies are left to pick up the tab for reckless lenders and incompetent regulators. The Government can’t justify this dichotomy. Analogies about riots in Athens are glib and trite. We deserve debt restructuring on the banking component of our national debts — as promised during the general election.

THE sheen will wear off the eurozone deal by spring time. The Greek debt write-downs only amount to 28% of their sovereign debt. It is insufficient. Bank recapitalisations, including only €8bn for French banks, fall far short of actual requirements. The funny money solutions of €1 trillion for the EFSF resemble a smoke and mirrors strategy of new loans, bonds and insurance mechanisms that don’t contain adequate details. EU finance ministers still have to procure credible figures of the revised euro architecture. China and India require significantly more information before they invest to bail out the single currency. Any deal is an improvement on the unsustainable ‘extend and pretend’ nonsense that has continued under Franco-German paralysis.

Tomorrow, Government publishes its three-year fiscal plan, with expenditure limitations for each department. The profile of total tax takes will be revealed. Government backbenchers (more than 70) wait in the long grass. They fear ministers have become aloof and arrogant. If the same dismissive tones are displayed in most recent campaigns and poll aftermath, they fear for their survival. They know the shambles of Government Information Services’ performance cannot be repeated. Lack of a political mastermind such as PJ Mara, Peter Prendergast, Alastair Campbell, Bernard Ingham or Mark Mortell within GIS is apparent. Communication strategy has been exposed as not fit for purpose.

TDs and senators, comprising the ‘dispossessed’ (the ministerial jobless) face a bleak future. The Achilles heel of this administration has always been the ticking time bomb behind the Government front bench. Passivity wasn’t an option in Mutiny on the Bounty. Survival meant standing up to be counted. The Mattie McGrath survival strategy worked — outside the party fold. As ministers seem to rapidly get lost in a sense of their own self-importance, they aren’t listening. Who will be first Fletcher Christian?

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