OH dear. Oh dear. Oh what a tangled web they wove in a week of political turmoil in Ireland. I was afraid to blink in case I missed something. I don’t believe there will ever be a week like this again.
What a difference a week makes. When I was writing this column last week Brian Cowen was in top form having won a vote of confidence as leader of Fianna Fáil by a margin of what is believed to have been two to one.
By the end of the week, Brian Cowen was gone as leader of Fianna Fáil and will be gone as Taoiseach in a few weeks time and perhaps, even, as a deputy for Laois/Offaly. The Greens are gone out of Government. Mary Harney is gone as Minister for Health. Micheál Martin is gone as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Tony Killeen is gone, as are Batt O’Keeffe, Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey.
John Gormley and Eamon Ryan, who were ministers in Government less than a week ago, are now sitting on the Opposition benches with Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin.
Gone with them are a number of important bills they were going to stake their reputations on, such as the Climate Change Bill, the Corporate Donations Bill and the Bill to have future Lord Mayors of Dublin elected by the people of the capital city.
If I were a poet I might say that all had changed, changed utterly. When I was writing this column last Wednesday, Cowen was full of confidence and joked with the Opposition in the Dáil about the attempted heave against him the previous night.
The following day, all that confidence had disappeared when he was forced to admit that he had not been allowed by the Green Party to exercise his right to reshuffle his Cabinet as he wished. Within two days he announced his resignation as leader of Fianna Fáil, his dreams in tatters around him.
It was a sad day for those of us who have known Cowen since he was first elected to the Dáil all those years ago. It saddens me to say that his leadership was a total failure but I have said that before. I did think before that, given time, he might redeem himself. However, even that hope has now been shattered.
Somebody once said that all political careers end in defeat. Cowen’s career has ended in total defeat. Others will say that it has also ended in shame. I cannot share that view.
I believe he did his best but, as my old schoolmaster in Kilkishen Pat O’Connor used to say of me and of my classmates, his best was not good enough.
Cowen presided over the biggest economic collapse in the history of our State and he didn’t have the answers to our plight. The fact that none of his advisers, nor his Cabinet colleagues, had the answers either is neither here nor there. Neither is the belief that if Fine Gael or Labour were in power over the last three years, matters would be no different. The fact is that the buck stopped with Brian Cowen and he was found wanting.
His mishandling of the Cabinet reshuffle last week was another example of his poor judgement. He cannot be completely blamed for thinking the Greens would go along with a major reshuffle – our own Tony Killeen thought the same, as did chief whip John Curran after meeting the Greens. It appears to me that the Greens did not make their position sufficiently clear.
However, apart from his misreading of the Greens’ attitude, it should have been clear to him that the public would never have accepted the notion of so many Fianna Fáil TDs promoted to Ministerial rank when the Dáil itself was on its last legs.
The Opposition would have gone to town on it and the voters would have looked on it as another typical Fianna Fáil jobs for the boys stroke. The fact that Cowen couldn’t see that speaks volumes about his leadership.
I had thought that the Government under Cowen’s leadership had got the best deal possible from Europe and from the IMF last November. However, having seen what a bags the same leadership made of last week’s events, I am wondering what mistakes they may have made in their negotiations with the big boys of Europe and elsewhere.
The latest opinion poll published in this week’s Sunday Independent shows Fianna Fáil support down to 8%. While I have strong doubts about the accuracy of a telephone poll among only 200 respondents, I will not be surprised if a more reliable poll to be published this weekend shows a similar result.
However, it is possible that the new Fianna Fáil leader will give the party a bounce over the coming weeks. The best the party could hope for in the election would be to receive support in the mid-20s, with, perhaps, between 30 and 40 seats.
It is far too early yet to predict and I am not making a prediction now. I am only stating at this point what might be the best outcome that Fianna Fáil could hope to achieve. A lot of reputations are going to be made and broken over the coming weeks and the campaign has not got underway yet.
Fine Gael is in the driving seat at this early stage. The party will probably make more use of Michael Noonan and Leo Varadker and less of Enda Kenny, who is liable to shoot himself and his party in the foot.
Labour’s problem will be to try and attract support away from Sinn Féin and the other socialist parties on the Left, while at the same time doing nothing to alienate potential votes on the Right.
Sinn Féin, like Fine Gael, might be advised to keep their leader Gerry Adams in hiding, while allowing their finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, to represent them more often over the course of the campaign.
It’s all to play for.