Saturday 21 September 2019

FF 'heavists' only interested in own interests

THE FIANNA Fáil backbenchers and leadership hopefuls who were behind this week's heave against Taoiseach Brian Cowen may have been motivated by a belief that they could somehow salvage their party's dismal prospects in the forthcoming general election but, in reality, there can be no doubt that, regardless of the party leadership, Fianna Fáil needs to undergo a long rehabilitation process before it can be trusted to hold political power again.

Brian Cowen has consistently argued that nobody - not even the best economic thinkers in Europe - foresaw the worldwide recession that dragged Ireland down. His disastrous interview on Morning Ireland last year had more to do with a hoarse throat than a boozy night. And then there's the famous golf outing with former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick, and a cohort of banking heavy hitters, in July 2008. Brian Cowen insists there was no discussion during the golf outing about Anglo Irish Bank, which was included in the State banking guarantee two months later. Indeed the outing was so innocuous that Mr Cowen never thought it worthy of mention during all the subsequent forensic examination of the banking crisis. There was more than a hint of indignation when when he defended himself last week saying: "There's no one suggesting I did anything wrong - I never did anything, nor am I beholden to anybody throughout my public life."

Brian Cowen's protestations are reminiscent of the defence put forward by his predecessor Bertie Ahern when his complex personal finances were subjected to public scrutiny. Like Bertie Ahern, Mr Cowen has asked the Irish people to believe the unlikely, not on the basis a plausible explanation but simply because he is a decent, honest, hard-working man with nothing but the best interests of the country at heart.

Ultimately people stopped believing Bertie, at which point the 'teflon taoiseach' came unstuck. Now the people don't believe Brian Cowen. A Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll, published at the weekend, found eight out of 10 people don't believe the Taoiseach didn't discuss the affairs of Anglo Irish Bank when he played golf with Sean FitzPatrick in Druid's Glen. And seven out of 10 people said they think Brian Cowen's links to prominent figures such as FitzPatrick influenced his decision to extend the bank guarantee to Anglo Irish Bank. Brian Cowen may think his fateful golf outing was no big deal and that may be so. But it is a very big deal when people don't believe a Taoiseach who puts his honour on the line in appealing for the public's trust on a matter that has the most profound implications for his role as leader of the country. More than that, there should never be a reason for the citizens of the country to have to question whether the Taoiseach is telling the truth; it should be a given.

That, perhaps, is where Brian Cowen's biggest offence lies - as leader of the country he should be seen to be beyond reproach, but is not. This is what we have seen from a succession of Fianna Fáil Taoisigh and the people of Ireland are sick of it all. They want to feel confident that their political leaders' honesty and integrity is beyond question and they want to see any suggestion of clientelism and 'golden circles' banished from the political landscape. It is unfortunate that such thoughts don't seem to occupy the minds of those behind this week's heave against Brian Cowen as leader of Fianna Fáil. Their motivation, as Micheál Martin explained, is the good of party and saving as many FF seats as possible in the forthcoming general election.

The Fianna Fáil ' heavists' have little to say about the need for high standards in public office and Brian Cowen's failure to set those standards. Instead their greatest concern is saving their own political skins. Voters will see through this and it will make little difference who leads Fianna Fáil when they deliver their verdict.

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