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Seven years on – it’s clear Cowen flattered to deceive

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Happier times...the then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen at a Fianna Fail Parlimentary Party meeting in the Clayton Hotel.

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

It’s Easter Week and a time of political anniversaries – although we’re not looking at the predictable one that has dominated all the headlines.

No, the lesson from this anniversary isn’t about how we interpret the past – but about how spectacularly wrong just about everybody can be when it comes to predicting the future.

Seven years ago, this week, Bertie Ahern stood down as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil. On that morning all its TDS and Senators congregated on Leinster House for a group photograph.

Ahern was sitting beside Brian Cowen, the then-Minister for Finance. He very consciously leaned over and shook his hand in a very deliberate fashion. This was the visual cue that Cowen was the anointed one; that he had become Ahern’s successor by acclamation.

A few minutes later as the group of about 100 – how big Fianna Fail was back then! – broke up and went their separate ways, Cowen was mobbed by colleagues eager to touch his hem.

A little distance away, Ahern made his way back to the doors of Leinster House unaccompanied. He cut a solitary figure, a little forlorn. He had planned to stay on until he was 60 but the carpet had been swept from under his feet because of the disclosures about his personal finances.

At the time Cowen became the seventh leader of his party and Taoiseach – he had to wait a month until May 8 for it to become official – the Celtic Tiger still seemed a living breathing animal.

Everybody knew the boom was slowing down but Cowen had been talking since soon after the 2007 general election about the prospect of a “soft landing”. It was a meaningless phrase and, as it turned out, outrageously inaccurate.

Still, that April there was still optimism in the air. Cowen set out his plans for Fianna Fáil under his tenure, invoking the spirt of the Easter Rising. In private comments to TDs and Senators he quoted Patrick Pearse and the country he envisaged.

But it was to Sean Lemass that Cowen referred most, name-checking his predecessor three times in the course of that speech. Lemass, he said defined patriotism as love of country and pride in the history, literature and the culture; as well as the ability to add to those achievements.

“On this occasion on the appointment of a new leader,” he said, “it is incumbent on all to subscribe to that particular credo today. Let it be the inspiration for what we set out to do.”

Cowen told his colleagues that he would put all his energies into the role but, typically, refused to set out his stall. In a press conference that day he would not be drawn on any specifics in relation to his plans.

He did acknowledge that the country faced more difficult times but said his commitment to capital investment remained the same. That would mean the imposition of discipline on the current spending side.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Homeowners living in fear of walls coming tumbling down

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Pyrite and Mica-affected homeowners protest this week at Dublin’s Convention Centre.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Mica and Pyrite are two words that have been lifted from a technical manual or a science textbook to become part of common speech in Ireland in recent years. The presence of both substances in construction materials has had devastating consequences for families from Donegal, Mayo, Limerick, Sligo and other counties. We have seen the TV documentaries and newspaper reports where distraught homeowners show huge cracks in the gables of houses or show a block to the camera that is crumbling in their hands like dust.

Sometimes it looks like somebody has built a giant bungalow-shaped sandcastle that’s going to be washed away by the next spring tide.

We are talking about people’s family homes here. This is where all the life savings – past, present and future – have gone. They (or rather their builders) bought the blocks in good faith, little knowing they were so defective they would endanger their houses, and indeed their own lives.

As Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald remarked in the Dáil this week about these families: “They go to bed at night wondering will their gable end fall down or will the chimney on their neighbour’s house fall down.”

So who is to blame? The companies who manufactured the blocks? The State for not having robust safety standards for the material or manufacture of blocks? The State, again, for not conducting sufficient inspection?

It’s complicated. Like Pyrite, apportioning blame is a tricky business. What is not in doubt is that people who have built family homes cannot live in them anymore, because they are dangerous and falling apart, and it is not their fault. They deserve compensation.

The focus of the Sinn Féin motion this week was for the families to get 100 per cent open-ended compensation. That would mean the State would foot the entire bill to remediate their houses, to rectify the faults, and sometimes to rebuild the whole lot.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Will ‘vaccine bounce’ prove crucial to by-election victory?

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Noel Treacy...a rare by-election win for the ruling party.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

By-elections sometimes mean everything – and sometimes they mean nothing at all. Because often, by the time a general election takes place, they have faded away into the past. They have no impact at all on the national level.

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen some memorable and crucial by-elections.

Like way back in 1982, when Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who had a minority government, engineered a coup by nominating a Fine Gael TD, Richard Burke, to be Ireland’s European Commissioner.

Burke was a TD for Dublin West which was a Fianna Fáil stronghold at the time. The idea was the party’s candidate would win the subsequent by-election to give Fianna Fáil a majority in the Dáil.

But things did not go to script. Fine Gael’s candidate was a local businessman named Liam Skelly who bucked the trend by taking the seat in an audacious victory for Fine Gael.

Another significant by-election was in 2010 in Donegal South West. Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher had won a seat in the European Parliament in 2009 and the Fianna Fáil-led government had dilly-dallied over holding an election to fill the vacant seat.

The long-fingering eventually resulted in a court case taken by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty – which he won, amid huge publicity.

The narrative, of course, was that Fianna Fáil were trying to shut him out. By that stage they probably were. Doherty won a massive victory for his party, getting elected in the first count.

I have always believed that this victory alone provided much of the momentum for the big gains Sinn Féin made in the following election.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
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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Vaccine programme shows we’ve turned Covid corner

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Success story…Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking with peer vacinator Anne Kennedy and clinical lead Sharon Fahy on his visit the Ballybrit Vaccination Centre in Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Are we near the end? Have we finally got on top of Covid-19 for good?  Certainly, the news coming from the vaccination programme is good. More than good – it’s brilliant. The whole thing has been run so efficiently that we did a double-take at the signage in the centre to make sure they were in English and Irish, and not in German.

In Ireland, governments get very rare victories – but this has been one. More than one million jabs – between 250,000 to 300,000 each week – will have been given out during May alone.

That looks set to continue apace in June – despite the huge disruption caused to the Health Services Executive by the cyberattack from Russian hackers – with well over a million administered then.

At this moment, those in the age range of 40 upwards are getting vaccines or are getting appointments. Of course, there is always uncertainty over supplies (AstraZeneca and Janssen supplies have had periods of being sporadic). But the workhorse of the system, Pfizer BioNTech, has continued to deliver, and at scale.

So it now looks like the Government will meet its target of giving at least one vaccination shot to 82 per cent of the eligible population by the end of June.

Given the challenges involved with a nationwide programme, it is some achievement.

Being over the age of 50, I got my shot last week. It was all done seamlessly: I registered online, got a text a few days later telling me to go to the Aviva two days later.

It was strange lining up with people the same age as you, to see how kind or otherwise age had been to them. It took about two hours and the queuing was a bit like the rigmarole you go through when boarding an aircraft. But it was grand. It was all very smooth.

At this moment, about 18 to 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated (having got two shots). Most of those are in the older cohort.

You can see the impact that has had. While daily case numbers have stayed stubbornly around the 400 mark, the number of deaths and hospitalisations has fallen.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
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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