‘Independence’ is reason Cowen cannot pull off the Brown ‘trick’…

If it’s a given that the Irish media aren’t very fond of Fianna Fail, then Harry McGee’s summation of their prospects is as fair a one as I’ve seen in while. Early on he wonders out loud whether Brian Cowen can do a Brown and bring his party back from the brink so many believe he has already dropped off.

The analogy is an interesting one, and no doubt will have some appeal to those inside government. And despite the shrillness of his critics (nearly as shrill and partial as Gordon Brown’s were) there is some mileage in the idea that Cowen’s not spoken to the press or the people for much of the last two years because he’s been busy trying to do the right thing.

As Harry notes:

For the record, my own belief is that Cowen – despite many failings as Taoiseach – has tried his best over the past two years and has taken decisions – not all of them right – that were in the national interest but were to the detriment of his  party. I have said before that his larger sin was when he was Minster for Finance. He was too instutionalised; too cautuous; too careful; too happy to plod along. He was a card-carrying member of the reckless light-touch regulation brigade that inflicted so much damage to the country.

The difference is that Brown (who had also been a contented ‘light-toucher’ of the Greenspan orthodoxy) was able to act quicker, earlier and had more independent fiscal levers and financial resources to throw at the problem than Cowen.

That, I suspect, is the thing that’s rankling with Fianna Fail’s republican base: in all the ins and outs of the last ten/twelve years, the UK has retained sufficient independence to at least be seen to plot its own course out of what is, in fact, a much broader western mess.

Cowen’s fightback will no doubt encourage the troops, but he’ll need to start finding a way of explaining what he’s been doing for the last two years in such a way as not to blow the ‘independence myth’ the state was founded on. Early talk of compromising sovereignty backfired when the EU forced that ‘unwanted’ €80 billion into the country’s waistband.

Hostages to outrageous fortune lie waiting everywhere in the undergrowth.

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  • Alias

    Cowen is the only leader of a member state to refer to the bail-out of the eurosystem as being in Ireland’s “national interest”. Every other leader that has commented on it refers to it as being designed to defend the Euro. That’s the problem with quislings telling lies in the party’s interest in a global media when his “European partners” aren’t singing from that irrelevant hymn sheet.

    But then again Lenihan probably did think that the government guarantee scheme would be the “cheapest in history” and Cowen probably did think that NAMA” would return a small profit for the state” since one of the principle advisers telling them that tosh was the Irish Central Bank which “shall act in accordance with the guidelines and instructions of the ECB” and “shall support the general economic policies in the Union in order to contribute to the achievement of the latter’s objectives.” That’s the EU’s interest, not the defunct national interest.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I think its a fair assessment. FF have crtainly lost out since the Irish Press/Sunday Press ceased to be. Handing the market to the hostile Independent Group meant that there was alwaysa difficulty in getting thru to “FF people” as the message was being mediated so to speak by hostile journalists.
    I take the view that all politicians are patriots of a kind……maybe of a distorted form of patriotism. But seeing their own Partys fortunes sink to these lows (is it possible to recover ever?) must be secondary to many on the Government benches who have ……for whatever reason destroyed the Irish Nation for generations.
    That must be painful.
    That this was not what they wished when they entered Government goes without saying.
    But ultimately thats very little mitigation.

  • The Word

    Of course, the myth underlying the comment of the “independence myth” is that a small open economy with or without a fixed exchange rate can ever be a totally independent entity.

    Those who see pooling of sovereignty as a cause for concern that undermines their basic identity should face the reality that if their basic identity is based on “sovereign financial independence” then they are probably living in a deluded philosophical state.

  • Alias

    Anyone would think that all 193 of the world’s state ‘pooled’ their currency rather than just the 15 of them that are now close to bankrupcy as a result of the bizarre project.

    You’re conflating financial sovereignty with international isolationism, when no one is advocating the latter.

  • Alias, the only country that has gone bankrupt so far is Iceland, and it is only a few of the Eurozone states that are in fiscal trouble. Ireland is arguably only in the state it’s in today because of the bank guarantee. The euro may be a factor in the current crisis, but it is not the cause.

  • Alias

    More than a third of the 16 EuroZone members are now nearing bankrupcy after joining the ludicrous political project- Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Italy. Coincidence? No, common currency.

    Notice that Eurozone states top the world rankings for external, with other EU states within the GSP taking 15 of the top 20 places for of world’s most indebted countries. That’s 40 trillion US dollars that the top 15 EU wasters owe.

    Good luck paying that off when the EU’s share of global GDP is in freefall. It’s only a matter of time before the ship sinks. If Ireland had stayed out of the EuroZone then it wouldn’t have traded its booming economy for a credit card, or run up a 2.5 trillion debt on it.

  • Alias

    Incidentally, I wonder would the current governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, stand over comments he made in a report for the World Bank blaming Ireland’s adoption of the Euro for the economic crisis: “it was Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) entry that really started the housing price surge by sharply lowering nominal and real interest rates, thereby lifting equilibrium asset prices”?

    Given that he is now in service of the ECB, I’d guess that is a statement of fact that he’d wish he hadn’t made.

    One thing is 100% certain, it would not have been possible for banks to lend hundreds of billions to inflate asset prices (not monitored by the ECB under price stability) if they were not members of the eurosystem, so the external debt could not have arisen and, ergo, the crisis could not have arisen.

  • The Word


    “ludicrous political project”

    High debt is one thing but the European project has had an extremely beneficial influence over the occurence of international war within Europe.

    The Eurosceptic arguments of the far right in the UK, and within certain Irish republican varieties, have no real response to the globalisation ethos that has the US, China and Russia setting the pace.

    Their argument is an extension of the “I, me, mine” ego and the thought that their kind is not in charge outrages them.

    They support Old Testament nationalism that see the other as a threat and the ethos of captial and its derivative values as the only way the world works.

    Debt can be written off. Human life and the idealism that makes it pleasant should never be underestimated.

  • redhugh78

    ‘If it’s a given that the media aren’t fond of Fianna Fail’

    It’s not a ‘given’ by any means, the media I would have thought (RTE in particular) are quite fond of FF given that we had to rely on sky/bbc/ch4 news to get the real news issues in the run up to as well as during the IMF intervention.

    The blogosphere was up in arms about it (RTE Pravda being used to describe the national broadcaster) for Christ sake, then we had the Sunday papers eulogising Brian Cowen at the weekend for one boisterous interview with Miriam O Callaghan as the FF fightback, not to mention Joe Duffy (RTE’s answer to Nolan) devoting his radio show to an X factor alternative song while the Dail was making one of the most important/criminal decisions ever in its existence.

    Far from it Michael…

  • Alias

    “High debt is one thing but the European project has had an extremely beneficial influence over the occurence of international war within Europe.”

    Complete rubbish. The partition of Germany put an end to that country’s warmongering on the continent. So the cause of war wasn’t the nation-state but imperialism, and the EU is imperialism by other means. The rest isn’t even worth responding to.

    The difference between Ireland and Iceland.

  • Mick Fealty


    I honestly think you are trying to load one problem (the pooling of sovereignty) with another (the unfeasibly large scale and diversity of the Eurozone).

    One of the biggest problems in International relations is that there is no agreed way for a country to default in the same way as an individual has to become bankrupt. So you get countries that have become adept at getting into serial difficulties and each time setting the clock back to zero.

    That’s not (yet) a Eurozone problem. It’s part of a global one. And markets have become global in their reach, whilst regulatory systems have not managed to keep up.

    Just look at the way you’ve had US economists bitching about how the FSA lead to the death of Lehman’s (by not giving Barclays a guarantee) and those ‘light touchers’ like Brown blamed everything on US mortgage debt.

    Since Ireland has a small open economy and a flexible workforce, my point is that it really messes with the national ‘independent’ self conception.


    Ah, ‘Michael’ is it now? The media everywhere have to give some abeyance to the incumbents, of course. But FF is undoubtedly the meat of the day just now (and, bizarrely perhaps, given what has been said about you guys in the past, it’s not SF).

    The Dublin media set, by and large, hold most stripes of Irish ‘republicanism’ in contempt for the populism they hold responsible for the whole mess the country is in just now.

  • The Word


    The point I am making is not simply about the absence of warmongering but the pursual of peace as an ideal. Pooling sovereignty has enabled real peace to be the norm rather than left to the “markets”.

    Your link to the purveyor of “Scottish Protestantism’s”, as I have heard him described, economic morality, Adam Smith Institute.

    I am not of the opinion that any morality should defer to capital. It should be the case that people and their politicians set and control ethical and moral values (ie through policies) for the benefit of mankind, and that capital should not be a god.

  • Munsterview

    FitzJ : “…….I think its a fair assessment. FF have certainly lost out since the Irish Press/Sunday Press ceased to be………”

    Now there’s a ghost from Christmas past !

    We are perhaps a bit too close to these things and since one of Dev’s grandchildren is a government Minister and another a High Court Judge that during his time in the trenches, as Barrister and later Senior Council, could be found in the Judicial Review courts entering defenses and providing a litany of excuses for all sorts of State sculduggery including individual and collective Garda wrongdoing, there is a limit to what I can say in deference to not legally exposing slugger !

    Incidently in relation to garda wrong doing, very, very few gardai get convicted, many are charged but just before the chopper falls they negotiate a resignation v the old pension left alone etc, such as in the Donegal Garda Scandal broken by the late Billy Flynn PI. When it comes to the conviction stage it is always ‘Ex Garda’, but I digress.

    In coming days and years when Fianna Fail corruption is measured dispassionately against the undoubted patriotism that also existed in the party, the whole sorry saga of the Irish Press will providing some interesting insights as to how corruption came to dominate.

    Funds for a free Irish Press were collected Stateside in dollars, fives and tens in the main from ordinary people who were irish prior to emigration or by descent. Business people gave hundreds from their own resources. Dev himself came from absolute poverty and from 1916 on he had no other funds other than earned through politics, yet his extended family have made good.

    Dev by a convoluted process that was anything but transparent ended up in a situation where he, his family and his appointed cronies ended up as sole private owners of the Irish Press Group and the funds raises for this purpose.

    When there is a dispassionate examination of how National need to have a free, impartial voice was subverted to private greed and milked as a cash cow, then something of the corrupt and corrupting ethos that brought us to the current Twenty-Six County situation may be understood.

    To leave Nationalist Ireland without its own voice and a champion for it’s cause during the most pressing time that it was needed. The old Irish Parliamentary Party managed to present themselves as ‘Patriots’ until from 1916 to 1918 they were exposed for the self seeking, self promoting,venial grafters they mainly were with no answers for the Irish people on anything.

    Likewise I have absolutely no doubt that as history is re examined from this anniversary period on by a new generation of republican scholars, it will deal equally devastatingly with the with the various betrayals of Fianna Fail and none bigger than the mismanagement of the Irish Press Newspaper.

    In latter days it was a long, long way away from the paper that people like Liam McGabhann, David Marcus and others such as that distinguished learned scholar O’Dalaigh loved and served, not just as a job but in the first instance in a patriotic act to advance the cause and culture of The Irish Race !

    Dev and his extended family will yet have to answer for that act of National sabotage before the Bar of History.

  • I think Fianna Fail is also more vulnerable than the Labour Party because the structure of Labour is build around much more solid political foundation. There are many labour supporters who blame the problems of the bank crisis on capitalism itself.

    I dont think an incumbent socialist government was ever going to be as vulnerable as an incumbent populist government.

  • Neville Bagnall

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I think a big part of the SF jump came directly from FF as a result of the bailout and their handling of it.

    Like you say Mick, that rankled with the nationalist FFers, the Legion of the Rearguard.

    I think FF might win some of that back in the course of a campaign, it depends on whether “there was no alternative” still has any play left in it, or is a busted flush.

    I don’t think the public sector vote will leak much from Labour – their best hope is that Labour does well. Labour could lose some of its traditional vote to the Hard Left and SF, but might be able to win some of the FF-SF jumpers, if FF can’t win them back and SF proves uncomfortable. Labour’s soft right could bleed to FG, but not, I think, to FF.

    I don’t see FG bleeding support to FF either. If FG has a bad campaign I’d expect Labour to benefit.

    Even if FF has a good campaign, its not going to change the parties making up the next Government.

    So what effect can FF have?
    – If they target SF, they may get back the jumpers.
    – If they target Labour, I’d actually expect FG to benefit more than FF.
    – If they target FG, I don’t think it will have any significant effect at all.

    I think either FG or Labour could generate a swing between them of up to 5% with a winning policy and campaign or by cocking something up.

    The only Earthquakes left that haven’t been triggered?
    A Red-Green alliance, which Labour seems to have ruled out, I think wisely on balance.
    A FG-FF alliance, which might conceivably work for both parties involved, but would more likely damage FG.
    FF abolishing the old age pension. 😉