Saturday 21 September 2019

With or without Cowen, FF are entering a twilight zone

with IVAN Yates

WITH OR without Brian Cowen as party leader, FF is entering a twilight zone. The most damaging electoral liability for any political party is to be riven by internal divisions. Fine Gael's opinion poll recovery is mostly to do with increasing unity of purpose, further to the failed heave in June.

The public are irritated by internal combustion. Their conclusion is that if you can't run your own affairs, then you are definitely not fit to oversee the nation's business. Irrespective of Cowen's departure the party now looks like losing more than 40 seats.

Revelations from "Sean Fitzpatrick Tapes" raised suspicions about cronyism between the senior echelons of Anglo Irish Bank and Fianna Fáil. Golf, dinners and phone calls are now on public record. The key unresolved mystery is the role of Fintan Drury. Not only was he a senior director of the bank but also a member of the internal credit risk committee.

Fintan went to college with Brian and is a long standing close friend. It was widely rumoured when Cowen became Taoiseach that Drury would be his chief of staff/pr guru. He resigned a number of business directorships and commitments at that time. This job did not materialise. What informal unrecorded contact existed between these buddies leading up to the state bank guarantee and during the subsequent nationalisation of Anglo? The tax payer is liable for €34bn of consequences.

A notable political development over past weeks has been the torrent of political retirements. The pre-election exodus of Fianna Fáil TDs underlines the fear factor for seat retention. However, the most anticipated retirement everyone has been awaiting still hasn't happened. Mary Harney is just back from another opulent holiday in the Far East. Crises of patients on trolleys and chaos in A&E departments seem remote to her. Mind blowing VHI premium increases seem not even to be worthy of a response. Her excessive time tenure in office is resulting in gross indifference. The sooner she announces her inevitable departure the better.

Institutional reform is an essential ingredient to the general election policy debate. The abolition of the Senate is now firmly on the agenda. Labour have adopted Enda Kenny's proposal, which seemed far fetched at the time. Fianna Fáil is set to include this in their manifesto. Many senators are political journeymen and women -the Upper House being a crèche for those on the way up or a nursing home for others on the way out. The opportunity to facilitate ministerial careers, as senators of expertise, has been wasted. The political elite have put their own class and mates before the national interest. If it can't be reformed, it has to go.


The past few weeks have been traumatic for me and my family. Receivership of Celtic Bookmakers marks a calamitous conclusion to our betting business, which we developed since 1987. Countless personal letters, calls, emails, texts and messages have been sent to us from far and wide. The sincerity, empathy and sensitivity shown to us, albeit undeserved, have been deeply appreciated. People have been so considerate and thoughtful. These included well wishers who have experienced the same plight.

My immediate concern remains for Celtic staff. The toughest aspect of the ordeal was sitting down and explaining the employment ramifications of business failure. Younger employees face emigration for employment. Some bread winners are recently married with children and costly mortgages. Long serving loyal staff face difficult job prospects. Every effort is being made by receiver, Neil Hughes to secure retention of maximum posts. It is inappropriate and even improper for me to comment on the affairs of the business, as he is fully responsible for the day to day management and decisions.

My expectation of media coverage, in advance of the event, was apprehension because of the competitive environment of media organisations and as I am forthright in my criticism and probing of others. Generous comment on my handling of the matter has softened the blow of what is a humiliating situation. I feel a sense of embarrassment (which is hard to explain) in relation to any positivity. In politics, there is the perception and reality of occurrences. The former can be more important. In our case, Celtic and the banks, the latter seems overwhelming.

Many people reassure me that eventually I will look back on this time with laughter. That's a certain non runner. The worst dejection comes in the form of a negative apathy, which is best described as indifference to the future. I am used to uncertainty, given the job insecurity of being a TD over the years. My usual modus operandi is of a positive focus and drive. I seek to be my own harshest critic. I avoid a pity party and wallowing in self indulgent misery.

My future? Some analysts and friends have suggested that I may return to politics. This is impossible due to my financial situation. I have no plans to re-enter the political fray. Politicians, like or loathe them, dedicate their entire lives to public service. It's all consuming - at the expense of family and all else. Having been that soldier, I realise the total commitment required. When the affairs of Celtic are concluded my intention is to devote energy to my media commitments.

When the dust settles, some positive features of this sorry saga may emerge. Greater appreciation about insolvency and business risks could be a welcome outcome of this recession. Commercial property law, with reference to leases, needs to be more flexible to respond to market conditions. Former landlords are now showing incredible pragmatism. Retail activity is vulnerable to the ever onward march of online transactions. Service sectors of the domestic economy face rationalisation due to the three year contraction in demand, with no immediate prospect of dramatic improvement.

For myself, I have a deeper appreciation of the depth of loyalty and support of friends. This can be overlooked in a busy schedule. Adversity can result in a closer bond within a family and marriage. Perspective is essential. The suffering of Michaela Harte's family arising out of her unspeakable murder puts financial matters into proper context. A million heartfelt thanks to everybody who has shown such kindness to me and Deirdre.


Leopardstown hosts the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday week (Jan 23rd). The absolute nap selection is Hurricane Fly. He won over the course and distance at the Christmas meeting following up on an impressive victory at Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Willie Mullins' superstar goes on any ground and wins off a slow or fast pace. He's bomb proof at odds of 4/5 rather than at Cheltenham, where he faces much stiffer opposition.

The RBS Six Nations' Cup starts soon. Last year France won at odds of 5/4. They have the biggest and best squad. Because of poor results in the autumn internationals they are now at 5/2. Team selection issues can be rectified with their strength and depth of quality. They commence with a home match against Scotland. An early victory can give them all the momentum required to win the title again.

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