MATT COOPER: Galway tent to K Club: the only difference between FF and FG?

POLITICAL contacts can be bought very cheaply in this country. Always has been the case and always will be, it seems, no matter what happens at tribunals and the like in exposing the carry-on between politicians and wealthy business people.

Political parties — and their members — are so desperate for cash that they’ll consort with just about anyone willing to stump up some readies.

In these recessionary times a good relationship with Fine Gael — the party that is expected to lead the next government — can be purchased for as little as €1,500, as we learned last weekend when news of that party’s golf classic at the K Club was revealed.

I wonder how much a round of golf with FG cost the last time the party was in power? FG came into power late in 1994 at a time when its debts were estimated at about £3m (as the currency was then). By the time it left power in mid-1997 its debts were cleared, apparently. A lot of golf would have to have been played to raise that money if that was the going rate.

Of course Michael Lowry was the man in charge of raising the money for FG in that government up until the time his own nest-feathering courtesy of Ben Dunne became a popular controversy in late 1996. Lowry had arranged lots of meetings for his then party leader John Bruton with generous business donors at venues including the K Club at Straffan in Co Kildare, and indeed on the night he was elected Taoiseach one of Bruton’s first tasks was to go and have dinner with the golf club’s owner, Michael Smurfit.

That was then, you might think, but things are different now surely after a decade of revelations about the relationships between our elite? Not so, it seems, and sometimes our political parties seem to go out of their way to prove what might otherwise be the glib and lazy cliché of “they’re all the same“: after all, the only difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seems merely to be one of scale. Reports of the FG golf classic at the same venue only serve to reinforce the prejudice.

If the electorate decides to eject FF — the party of the developers making financial contributions via the Galway tent — then it can replace it with a party that collects its money on a golf course instead. And which is collecting money from the same class of individuals and companies.

How can Enda Kenny slag off the relationship between FF and property developers now and cast aspersions on the idea behind NAMA, as he has done so often in the past, now that we see how he behaves in semi-private? Remember this is the man who once told the Dáil about Brian Cowen that “it is about time that the Taoiseach, in his capacity as leader of the government, ensures that it stops dancing to the tune of the developers”.

Of course the story this week changed to become a debate as to how Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton decided to draw public attention to this inappropriate behaviour and her reasons for doing so.

Creighton was entirely correct in what she said about FG taking the money but her reward was to be patronised by many people for so-called political naivety, for not realising this is merely the way the world works and that she should shut up about it. Others alleged she was merely taking a shot at party leader Kenny with whom she has not made peace after the recent heave against his leadership. She was blamed for not having the maturity to take her beating.

What nonsense. Creighton, a first-time TD, also expressed dissatisfaction with the failure of the party to take sufficient input from its elected members when it came to formulating policy. Instead, they are merely required to turn up and vote according to instructions. She might find herself having more influence with the party leadership if she was prepared to pay €1,500 for a round of golf with the party big-wigs. That is damning about the state of Irish politics.

Creighton has been condemned also for handing a stick to the Labour party with which to beat FG. She shouldn’t be too worried. After all, Labour gets a wedge of money from the trade union movement each year. Sinn Féin publishes its accounts in full and insists it does not engage in any off-balance sheet financing, which hopefully means money from IRA bank robberies was never used for electoral purposes.

nHere’s an opinion that might surprise Taoiseach Brian Cowen: far from concentrating too much on negative news, the media averts its attention from reality far too often.

Cowen earlier this week urged people to look beyond what he called “one negative aspect” of the state’s ability to borrow that was contained in a report compiled by the international debt ratings agency, Moody’s.

“I would ask the media to look at all of the report. We have enough of frankly this pervasive negativity all the time trying to take a bad interpretation of the report which, in fact, is supportive of what the Government is doing,” he said. “It’s time to get the real message out,” he said.

“The message from outside this country is that Ireland is seen to be proactive in taking and confronting the challenges that it faces... that it is responding and getting ahead with doing the business as necessary.”

Moody’s stripped Ireland of its triple-A rating a year ago and has reduced the rating to Aa2, which is the third highest in the agency’s rankings. It cited Ireland’s rising debt/GDP ratio and higher interest costs. It also referred to “weakened growth prospects” and the “crystallisation of contingent liabilities from the banking system”.

One of its authors opined that the Irish economy was stabilising and that the country had “turned the corner” — a phrase we have heard much of from the Government in recent times. He also spoke of “Ireland’s wealthy and flexible economy and its very high institutional strength” and said “Ireland’s demonstrated adjustment capability and its economic vitality — reflected, for instance, in its ability to attract foreign direct investment — are important characteristics that support the rating”.

IF you were to leave aside the source of this endorsement — who really takes rating agencies seriously after their failure in recent years? — this would appear to give Cowen considerable support for his argument. However, the reality remains that unemployment is soaring to be relieved only somewhat by the return of emigration. Many people in jobs are struggling because of reduced incomes. The next budget will make things worse for many people. There is little confidence, or spending, in the domestic economy. An air of doom pervades.

Yet the media is not as full of this as Cowen seems to think. Much of the media is pulling its punches. When it comes to economic analysis it is trying to provide balance. For every negative piece it is putting in, the claims of those who see good, even when offered falsely, are also included.

The media has a vested interest in the economy recovering to boost the advertising revenue upon which it depends and to encourage people to pay for the content. However, it would do even worse were it to ignore what is going on or to pretend it isn’t happening. The public doesn’t like being told lies or being fed false hope as much as they want genuine positivity.

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm. Contact him on twitter at cooper_m.


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