Pressure on Cowen mounts, as the case is made for an election

Now that the depth of Anglo’s pit has been divined (though have AIB and Irish Nationwide been stress tested enough?) the Irish Economy blog makes a cogent case for a November election before the budget.

The question of whether the government had a mandate to introduce unpopular measures would disappear. And despite regular claims from journalists that the opposition are irresponsible and have no policies, both Fine Gael and Labour did produce plans last year detailing how they would implement a €4 billion adjustment. Likewise, I would have little doubt that they would be forced to provide multi-year plans to match the government’s and that the election debate would be dominated by the comparison of these plans.

However the case may be complicated by tomorrow’s poll in the Irish Times, showing that a whopping 61% want Biffo to be replaced as Taoiseach. This leaves Fianna Fail with the unenviable choice of a snap leadership election or a Lenihan coronation followed by a general election, a leadership election or coronation only, or doing nothing. I’d guess that unless a real head of steam is building, the odds favour the status quo for now. FF don’t need an election to settle the budget strategy. They have space until at least the middle of next year. So why  address the lesser issue of leadership now and risk annihilation at the polls,  before their chance of survival matures?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • medillen

    This election may not change the financial outlook but it could finally be the deathnell of the civil war politics of the 26 counties and a new political divide opening up at last.

  • pippakin

    There cannot be many FF supporters who believe Brian Cowen is the best person to lead them into the next election. Lenihan, who some seem to feel would save FF from annihilation, is more photogenic and has handled the disaster of the banks as well as could be expected, but he is also part of the party who are responsible for allowing it to happen.

    Labour have an opportunity and provided they do nothing to frighten a conservative electorate they have a good chance of being a significant part of the next government.

  • Greenflag

    There was a time when that would have been seen as a progressive move for politics in the Republic i.e having a right , left divide with perhaps a smaller Lib Dem or AP type party filling in as a coalition aid if either of the ideological extremes ever went over the edge .

    But the Republic has never had an extreme right or extreme left major party in government . The plain people of Ireland are suspicious of ideology per se . S

  • Greenflag

    Sean Lemass a notorious fiscal conservative in his day and the man who as Taoiseach along with Ken Whitaker got the country ‘on the move’ towards sustainable economic growth in the late 1950’s and mid sixties – did not have it easy moving FF into the role of a forward looking political party .

    De Valera ended his days as party leader being somewhat ‘fatalistic’ about what a small country could do ‘economically’. His experience of the ‘economic war’ with the UK in the 1930’s , and subsequent political and economic fall out from WW2 made him perhaps pessimistic of the economic future . But Dev was always able to steer FF in the centre away from the ‘red ‘ end of the Civil War irregulars but also away from any flirtation with the fascist right that was emerging in Europe at the time and that was looking from the then perspective of many as ‘the future’.

    FG on the other hand has seen more of the pendulum swings . From it’s founder William Cosgrave’s strict Catholic conservatism to it’s 1930’s Blueshirt era to it’s Declan Costello’s ‘Just Society’ to Garrret Fitzgerald’s social
    liberalism mixed with centrist economics the party has had probably the most varied ideological history on this island .

    With FG you never know what forces are bubbling beneath it’s present veneer . Will it in Government veer sharply right or be browbeaten into a radical left turn by it’s Labour or other coalition partner ? The only certainty with FG is that it will maintain it’s role of being THE Constitutional Party which role it established for itself during and after the Irish Civil War .

    FG’s present dilemma is ‘leadership’ . It does not have a Garret Fitzgerald or William Cosgrave or even John Dillon . The young turks of the 60’s the Declan Costello’s etc have all faded . During Bertie’s long reign no FG leader could equal his ‘popularity’ or ‘street credibility’ . For FG to become the ‘junior ‘partner in a Labour led coalition is almost as unthinkable as the DUP becoming a junior partner in an FF coalition in a UI .

    But there are forces afoot in the world which are making a nonsense of the traditional ideological left versus right divide which much of Europe still adheres to in particular the UK .

    It does not seem to matter whether the governing party is of the right or left -in a globalised world economy – real political power has been held and continues to be wielded to it’s own advantage and self interest by the corporate financial sector at the expense of civil society no matter the ‘ideology’ of the ruling party . Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ did not avert financial chaos engendered by Northern Rock , RBS and others . The Bush ‘neo cons ‘ were helpless when confronted with the Wall St meltdown and the ‘extinction’ of Lehman Bros and many of the major financial institutions .

    So perhaps the way forward in Irish politics and society is not to ‘resurrect’ left /right ideology but instead elect political parties to Government who will ‘understand ‘ that they have been elected by the people to rule temporarily in the interest of the people and not by default or by bribery and corruption in the interest of the ‘banks ‘ and other plutocratic and oligarchic interests .

    If there is any political lesson to be learnt from this crisis it should be that people in Ireland and elsewhere need to start taking their ‘democratic’ rights more seriously and no longer assume that just because an individual politician has the letters TD, or MP or MLA after his or her name is no guarantee that they a) understand whats going on in the world or b) are not going to put their personal interest above that of the country .

    I suspect that for FG the choices are limited . They either take over the FF slot by winning a plurality of seats next time out or end up as junior partners to Labour a prospect which most of the old guard will view with ‘horror’ .

    ROI’s very own UUP in the making perhaps ?

  • Greenflag

    FF will not have Brian Cowen lead them into the next election . It probably will be Lenihan . Mr Cowen like Mr Brown in the UK and Mr Robinson in NI not only has suffered the fall out from being the long term number 2 but also came to power at the worst possible time . I suspect that Mr Cowen will hang on until early in the new year and then will do the honourable thing and resign and give the FF party a slightly better chance of averting a political and electoral disaster .

    I remain however ‘unconvinced’ that FG or Labour can do a whole lot more than the present Government in relation to the debt crisis . All they bring to the table it seems to be are some new faces with not a whole lot behind them imo.

  • pippakin


    I’m not sure Cowen will go quietly. If he does he will be showing more grace and dignity than his UK counterpart, which mind you is not hard.

    Lenihan might under different circumstances make a good, almost unbeatable, foe at the polls but he is almost as tarnished by the banking crisis as Cowen.

    I am not sure what can be done about the debt situation. The government have guaranteed the loans and as much as I think it would be justified, to renege on the promise would be unprecedented.

    Perhaps all most of us hope and expect the next government to do is signal real change and bring in laws that will protect the electorate and punish those who abuse the system.

    The next budget will be harsh on the poorest, but the politicians, judges and wankers will still be living in their grand houses and off wonderful pensions and parading themselves around as the ‘great and the good’.

  • GF,

    You’re right about the strange lack of a clear left/right divide in Irish politics. With FF firmly camped on populist turf, FG have struggled to define themselves on the economic spectrum. But there are other ways we can measure political difference. Perhaps we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of left and right, but north and south. Think of FF as Italy compared to FG’s Sweden. An imperfect analogy, but possibly more illuminating than the traditional metrics?

  • Greenflag

    AG ,

    ‘the strange lack of a clear left/right divide in Irish politics.’

    It’s not really all that strange when one considers the economic history -the path to independence -the splitting of the national ‘movement (Old SF in 1922) and the common glue of traditional Irish style ‘catholicism’ which only ever cast a baleful glare on any party or would be politician that was seen or heard to depart in any significant way from the ‘national ‘script . Dr Noel Browne being just the most prominent example . That common glue has come unstuck and the ‘priests’ have retired or been forced to retire to face their eventual oblivion as being significant politically significant . Being opposed by the RC Church publicly would now be considered an electoral asset by many would be politicos.

    Donough O’Malley was the first FF politician of any standing who stood up to the ‘Catholic ‘ethos of basic education for the plebs and higher education only for the priviliged . The RC Church did not approve of O’Malley’s ‘free second level education ‘or third level education for the people or at least those who could qualify academically .

    O’Malley had been put into the educational portfolio to keep him quiet but instead in the new ‘opening ‘ Ireland of the 1960’s and the world of TV and the Late Late -O’Malley quickly became a Minister who was perceived as ‘dangerous’ by the old guard in FF (as was Lemass btw ). His untimely early death robbed Ireland of an ‘alternative’ future perhaps than the one which subsequently emerged.

    Since that time FF has remained by and large a centrist party sometimes veering to the left under Bertie while turning sharp right in the late 1980’s during the last ‘national economc ‘ crisis .

    Bertie ( I will not upset the apple tart ) Ahern is no Berlusconi . The latter is so crooked that he is reputed to be only able to sleep on spiral staircases and has had so many facelifts that his face now lies atop his head and his political opponents have to stand on a step ladder to look down on his face to watch him lie:) .

    Bertie like Blair ,and Bush (all the B’s ) simply did not understand the economy or what was happening in the real financial world below the level of the Dow Jones or Footsie radar .

    He was a consummate politician as good if not better than Paisley in ‘reading ‘ the electorate and in not upsetting any apple tarts . I won’t fault him for being an economic ‘illiterate ‘ not when the major Anglophone countries (bar Canada ) despite all their ‘expert ‘ knowledge resources and armies of Nobel Prize winning economists ended up not just in the economic red but in two unwinnable costly wars :(.

    As for FG being the ‘sweden’ to FF’s ‘italy’ an interesting viewpoint. I know CJ was often referred to as Il Duce and that Sweden also had it’s ‘blueshirt quasi fascists ‘ in the 1930’s but to see FG as role modeling themselves on the Swedish Social Democrats? I can’t see it . Liam Cosgrave’s ‘mongrel foxes’ have been long put to flight and although a few may remain and raise their heads now and then they’ll never get control of the party .

    Middle Ireland (ROI) is from a purely political voting perspective more like Middle England than say Middle Scotland or Middle Wales . In it’s parties ‘ideologies ‘ it’s more like the USA used to be before that country lurched to the ulltra right in the past decade.

    I agree that the tradional metrics are no longer of much or any relevance to we Irish but must be a whole lot more confusing for those on the outside lookin in 😉

  • Greenflag

    Yes in other circumstances Lenihan would hammer Kenny and or Gilmore and indeed both . So too would Cowen but that is probably not to be . FF will most likely be going into opposition to lick their wounds and hopefully re emerge as a credible government next time or the next time after that .

    But I remain extremely skeptical of Kenny as Taoiseach and perhaps a little less so of Gilmore . I’d prefer Yates, or Shatter or Bruton or even Noonan but FG seem to be willing to hold on to Kenny . A rerun of the UUP holding on to Empey for too long at a cost to the party in electoral terms .

    ‘ I am not sure what can be done about the debt situation.’

    I’m not ready yet to give up on the indomitable Irishry’s long standing talent of solving the seemingly impossible by changing the question and finding ways around brick walls . If we could reduce WW2 to an emergency we’ll surely find a way around the current mess .

  • pippakin


    I see you are hanging on to old faithful! I think FF need to retire and regroup for a few years (or a hundred) & wait for the young to mature & take over the reins.

    I’ve a soft spot for Kenny, he is a mayo man after all, but notwithstanding that, he reminds me of the problems in Labour before the election, FG know they are in trouble but don’t know or have not the will to do anything about it. The result will be their loss.

    Gilmore has done well so far and I think if he can keep the unions and the RTE crowd at bay he might do well in office. He is at least worth a chance considering the alternatives..

    I agree about the indomitable Irish we never say never, especially never, never, never…but it is one hell of a holy mess this time..

  • Greenflag

    Old faithful ?

    I look around these islands and across the pond and I find that my faith in almost all of them on a scale of 10 has gone from about 3 ( normal circumstances ) to 1 to now ‘negative territory’ Still we must not consign ourselves to anarchy just yet 😉 Always best to bear in mind that what keeps us from being beastly to each other is our ‘political ‘ classes and parties .

    Mr Kenny is a dacent man .It probably did’nt help his cause that he spent all those years in opposition to Bertie ‘the pint of plain ‘ and man of the people etc etc .

    If FG can’t capitalise politically in present circumstances then they might as well hang their hats and themselves along with same 😉

    Holy mess ? I’m not understating the extent of the debt crisis but rather than pin this one on the men of the cloth perhaps ‘an unholy mess’ ?

    Mayo God help us 🙂 Best people in the world the West of Ireland people -imo . And that’s from a hard boiled Dub who has been around more than a few continents , countries and counties -yes even Leitrim 😉

  • pippakin


    You realise I was referring to the party not the person!

    I think, in spite of his idiosyncrasies we all miss Bertie. He is such an optimist! and in many ways that’s what’s missing now, there seems to me to be very little enthusiasm about the future.

    At the moment it is looking as though the best FG can expect is to be the minor part of a government, but if the coalition is with Labour how can that work?

    I agree about the ‘holy mess’ as far as I know the Vatican bank is in enough trouble it does not need Ireland woes, although it could probably clear the debt if a penitent pope was so minded…

    I agree, Mayo people are amongst the best, but I better not make any comparisons. I have relatives in County Cork, County Limerick and Dublin. We Ryans get about!

  • Greenflag


    ”although it could probably clear the debt if a penitent pope was so minded…’

    Not from my understanding . A while back I recall the Vatican’s liquid assets (not the wine cellars) amounted to a mere 5 billion dollars . Bernard Maddoff the now jailed Wall Street ponzi scheme financial criminal made off with 60 billion dollars . I beleive they have yet to recover even one billion 🙁

    ‘We Ryans get about!’

    I know .We have at least one branch hanging from the family tree in a previous generation 🙂

  • pippakin


    Hanging!!! Cannot possibly be any relation!

    Five billion? Or could it be that that is all they tell us about…

    Madoff? I will never understand how he got away with it for so long. The guy was nothing more than a used car salesman, and it worked!