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Cowen puts his nose above the parapet but we still have more questions than answers

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It’s not often that the armchairs and lounge setting of TG4’s relaxed chat show Cómhrá, or the even more relaxed persona of its presenter Máirtin Tom Sheáinín Mac Donncha, feature on the front pages of the national press.

But TG4’s coup in getting the first interview with Brian Cowen since he stepped down as Taoiseach deservedly won headlines for Baile na hAbhann last week. The programme goes out tonight (Thursday) at 7.30pm and while the TG4 and Raidio na Gaeltacta presenter is no Jeremy Paxman, he still asks Cowen all the questions that a current affairs presenter would and should ask.

They involve questions about what happened on the night of the bank guarantee; his poor record as Taoiseach and as Minister for Finance, the pursuit of wrong policies, and the failure to anticipate a crash.

There will always be the conflicting views on how the Government reacted when the crash took place – the debate between austerity hawks and Keynesian disciples who advocated enough spending to stimulate the economy and grow it out of recession.

In a sense that debate was moot as others (the Troika) had dictated that we had to take our tough medicine or else we would get no money. Politically, it would have been a huge gamble to try and brazen it out and to look for even larger sums from our lenders, or our “international partners” as Cowen called them as if we were somehow equal, which we definitely weren’t (he was always a sucker for awful ‘officialese’).

Ireland got €67 billion as part of a €85 billion package – the other €17bn came from the pension reserve fund. It’s hard to imagine where we would have, or could have, got more from international lenders to pursue a stimulus policy. It’s the classic case of what happens when the Man from Del Monte says No.

We were in a strait-jacket and there’s no two ways about it. The State had little choice but to pursue what it was told to do: “The Troika is correcting our homework,” was Pat Rabbitte’s neat phrase.

The proof of the pudding was that the Coalition, to all intents and purposes, continued with the four-year bailout programme when it came into office albeit it did succeed in getting some variations – but few of them of a fundamental nature.

So in a sense Cowen’s government did respond appropriately – if you were an adherent to the austerity school – when faced with a crisis. But that does not excuse it for having caused the calamity in the first place.

Cowen gave as much information to Máirtin Tom Sheáinín as he has to any current affairs presenter. Maybe he gave a bit more – the Connemara man has a lovely relaxed style and his interviewees tend to be “ar a gcompóird” in studio with him.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Fitting farewell for a true giant of Irish political life

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John Hume and his wife Pat at NUIG in 2003. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

I met John Hume quite a few times in the last ten years of his public life in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. There were the awful moments and the extraordinary moments. I was sent up to report on the awful ‘trick or treat’ sectarian killings in Greysteel, Co Derry, where Catholics were mowed down in a bar by a Loyalist gang.

At the funeral, a mother of one of those killed approached Hume at the graveyard and told him to carry on his work for peace. He was so overcome with emotion that he wept openly.

Later, he recalled, he was the butt of a lot of criticism and under considerable pressure during that period. Everything – the killings, the grief, the pressure – came to a head at that moment.

The pressure, of course, was continuing criticism for his relentless quest to bring communities together, to replace conflict with dialogue, and to bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

He himself said that meant talking to anybody and everybody. And of course, that had included – secretly – talks with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin for the previous six or seven years.

He was being attacked mercilessly for having the temerity to ‘sip with the devil’ by anti-Republican media organisations in the south and north – including columnists in the Sunday Independent.

There were highs too. The Good Friday Agreement in April 1988 was the pinnacle, bringing together everything he had campaigned for during a long political life. His deputy in the SDLP Séamus Mallon described it as Sunningdale for Slow Learners, referring to the earlier attempt at power-sharing in 1974 (it was collapsed by strident Loyalist opposition and widespread strikes).

Of course, Hume was instrumental in Sunningdale too.

For more on the life of John Hume, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Schools plan overshadowed by row over Ministerial pay

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Education Minister Norma Foley...busy week on road to recovery.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The good; the bad; the clever; the stupid – we’re going to get the full mixed bag during this Government’s term. But the past week was a cocktail of sublime and ridiculous.  First up was the dog’s dinner – otherwise known as the row over ministerial pay. There’s nothing that irks people more about politicians than stories about them earning more money. The perception is they are feathering their own nests.

The trigger was the presence of three super junior ministers in the Government, one from each of the three parties – all of them at the Cabinet table but with one crucial difference; they don’t have the right to vote.

The last Government also had three super juniors. But the legislation only allowed for two of them to have the salary of a senior minister – a difference of just over €16,300 from a junior.

When Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach in 2017, he dropped Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as a senior minister. As compensation, a new super junior ministry was created.

But when it came to trying to bump her salary up by €16,000 to the same as the other two super juniors, Fianna Fáil just wouldn’t buy it. Mitchell-O’Connor got an extra stripe on the uniform, but no extra pay.

This time around, there was no such problem. The three government parties have a majority and agreed unanimously to right that injustice, so the third minister would get the extra €16,000.

The problem was that it needed to be legislated. It was tacked on as an amendment to the legislation setting up the new senior ministry of Higher Education – except the Government didn’t bother to tell anyone.

So, when the press found out about it, they unsportingly went to town on it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Odds already lengthening on Coalition lasting full course

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Euro money...Micheal Martin in Brussels this week.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Barry Cowen’s departure is proof yet again that, when a politician is under the cosh, what often does for them is the original transgression – aided by new information. When they are hanging on by a knife-edge, even the slightest new controversy will topple them.

Most of the time, when people look at it afterwards, they realise the new information did not stand up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter about the substance. It’s all about timing.

In a few months’ time, the Garda internal inquiry might vindicate him (to some extent) in his claim he did not try to avoid a Garda checkpoint. But by that time, politically, it will be water under the bridge. Everything will have moved on.

What’s clear already is it’s going to be a rough ride. By the time you read this, the Green Party leadership contest will be in its final throes.

In a way it’s a replay of the debate about going into government and the vast majority of those who voted NO will vote for Catherine Martin. But the contest won’t be as lopsided as that.

Few people believe she can oust Ryan. But on a lowish turnout, she could possibly run him close. A win is a win – but if the margin is narrow, it might plant the seed of doubts as to whether or not Ryan can survive the entire term in government.

Is the Government going to last five years? That’s very difficult to know.

It has a majority of only four in the Dáil and three of the Greens voted against going into government. We have seen it already – Opposition parties tabling motions or amendments (last week it was on maternity leave, and on rights for low-paid workers) designed to embarrass the Green and put pressure on their TDs.

With Sinn Féin as main Opposition, you can bet the house that they will continuously pummel the smallest of the three Government parties on issues close to its soul, but which they had to sacrifice to the other two parties.

And while some aspects of the economy are ramping up again, everybody knows that everything is just stuttering about.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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