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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

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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.

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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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Connacht Tribune

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

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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