IVAN YATES: Political blood sport is just a brief diversion from the banking crisis

THE past week may prove to be a defining moment for the Greens in Government. Before the dawn comes the darkest hour. They learned however much they wish to avoid a general election, Fianna Fáil are even more eager to evade the electorate.

Dan Boyle’s Twitter of reality taught the Greens they are in a much stronger position than previously assumed, despite Trevor Sargent’s resignation. The 24-hour volte face from confidence motion vote to ministerial resignation shows the minor party can call FF’s bluff. The only Green casualty is the perception of Eamon Ryan as a Fianna Fáil lackey.

Willie O’Dea and his closest colleagues believe he was harshly done down for an “honest mistake”. Limerick voters support O’Dea because they demand local representation at the cabinet table. The problems of the mid-west, post Dell’s departure and the deferred regeneration project, deserve priority treatment. Beyond these localised loyalists and FF colleagues, there is limited sympathy for O’Dea.

His trademark in politics has been that he always preferred to play the man and not the ball. For three decades his hallmark has been to excoriate opponents in a personalised fashion. FF wheeled him out as an attack dog.

When Sinn Féin in Limerick attacked the misuse of ministerial resources for constituency matters, he sought to undermine Cllr Maurice Quinlivan on a personal basis. The well documented Brothelgate slur was so potentially damaging that Quinlivan sought a High Court injunction to prevent O’Dea from repeating the false slander and innuendo.

Justice John Cooke rejected the injunction on the basis of O’Dea’s categorical affidavit of April 14 that the Limerick Chronicle story by Mike Dwane was untrue. O’Dea rubbished Dwane and the paper. He laid his credibility on the line as a TD and minister. How could he so quickly forget this conversation of March 9? Did he assume no recording of the conversation still existed?

Why didn’t he check with Dwane to recollect what he said? The only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that O’Dea felt he could bludgeon his version of the conversation into acceptance. This was breathtakingly arrogant.

In O’Dea’s defence, the point has been made that we should consider Cllr Maurice Quinlivan and his brother Nessan are Sinn Féin activists. They represent the party that refuses to apologise for the killers of Jerry McCabe. Nessan Quinlivan was a convicted IRA man who escaped from Brixton prison in 1991. The argument goes that because of Sinn Féin’s violent, criminal past it is fair game for political smears.

Does this mean if O’Dea had gossiped about a Fine Gael or Labour candidate it would be different and unacceptable? This logic is absurd and unsustainable.

The other defence for O’Dea is that his constituency work rate is so dedicated he doesn’t deserve this harsh outcome. Politics and public service have been the overwhelming commitment of his adult life. His Fianna Fáil credentials of work for the party deserve understanding and sympathy in these circumstances.

A key trait of a good party TD is the ability to build a team of local public representatives. Instead of promoting a “mé féin” approach it is vital to delegate work and support through councillors. These act as curates to support the parish priest. It solidifies the party organisation and base. O’Dea’s 19,000 votes in 2007 translated to one seat for FF out of 17 on Limerick City Council. This reflects a deeply personalised constituency operation and organisation – hardly that of a team player.

Over the period from April last year to last week O’Dea could have played his cards differently. He showed alacrity in despatching solicitors’ letters to different newspapers. He used a newspaper column to denigrate Senator Eugene Regan and his brother.

During the Dáil debate he attacked Fine Gael on the basis they were trying to deflect from the George Lee debacle and accused Eamon Gilmore of “Sticky” propaganda. He encouraged other FF ministers to engage in the same rhetorical bluster rather than scrutinise his poor judgment and errors.

Cowen, Lenihan, Martin and Carey were all used to defend his localised whispering campaigning. Even after his resignation he sought to regurgitate past incidents in relation to Emmet Stagg and Paddy Donegan. This guy is the worst type of political street brawler.

Brian Cowen has been fulsome in his defence of O’Dea. Personal friendship and loyalty are admirable qualities. Bertie’s cuteness was not evident on this occasion. One can imagine Ahern would have conducted his own private inquiry into the false affidavit and would have sussed O’Dea’s vulnerability. His sharp antennae would have detected the landmine potential for trouble with the Greens once the media were on the case. Instead, Cowen bounced the government parties into a precipitous Dáil vote and subsequent humiliation. He has placed personal and party loyalty above standards in public office. The role of Seán O’Rourke’s News at One interrogation of Willie O’Dea cannot be understated. Dwane’s tape revealed O’Dea’s menacing tone. The sly nudge-and-wink innuendo was not lost on the listening public. O’Rourke coursed O’Dea on the alleged garda leak and his possible future cooperation with any related garda inquiry. O’Dea admitted he campaigns dirty. He was reduced to victim mode. If ever evidence was displayed that 12 years of continuous government detaches you from reality, this was it.

The contrast between the resignations of Willie O’Dea and George Lee could not be greater. Lee claimed Enda Kenny’s offer of a frontbench spokesmanship and future ministry was unacceptable because it was made “under duress”. Lee doesn’t understand the meaning of political duress in comparison to O’Dea and Fianna Fáil.

LAST week the Greens were put under duress to vote confidence in O’Dea. Eventually the Greens put O’Dea under duress to resign. Lee’s experience in the serenity of the opposition leader’s office was not political duress.

These four resignations (Lee, de Búrca, O’Dea and Sargent) have provided diversionary drama from the crisis within Irish banks. The Bank of Ireland conversion of a coupon repayment on our €3.5bn investment into 16% state ownership is the beginning of bank nationalisation. Between preference and ordinary shares the taxpayer now effectively owns more than 40% of Bank of Ireland. This institution needs to raise at least €2.2bn in fresh equity this year alone.

On top of the €4bn we have already pumped into Anglo Irish Bank a further €6bn will be required this year. AIB will probably require more than €3bn of a state injection.

Meanwhile, Irish Nationwide, EBS and Permanent TSB are seeking integration into a third force. The state will be the equity provider. Not one cent has been provided in this year’s budget for these needs. The NAMA plan is months behind schedule. NAMA’s asset purchase valuations of €54bn were wildly inaccurate and optimistic. NAMA’s main aim to provideliquidity to the economy isn’t working as all sectors of credit are severely contracting. Maybe it’s time to “ask the audience” for their opinion ... through a general election.


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