SOME poor sod had to do it. Some clown had to be Fianna Fail’s first sucker. The ragged Opposition party had failed to win a spat for months. Everywhere they turned, they were being hammered. Some say that they face oblivion.
Last week I was the sod who saved them.
Well, it was quite a blooding for a novice in the Dail. The shenanigans were mighty. Not a very proud legacy for me, to be remembered as the nitwit who gave Fianna Fail the kiss of life.
I plead guilty. I apologise. I am that nitwit.
Fianna Fail won a runaway victory against me in the contest to be chairman of the Dail’s key Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The score? Fianna Fail 11 votes, the independent nitwit a humble two.
A Fianna Fail fox has been put in charge of the nation’s chicken coop. A Fine Gael fox helped.
No one can blame John McGuinness, one of Fianna Fail’s finest, for seeking to seize the post. No one should blame his party for claiming the committee chair. That is politics. After all, the PAC holds the high and mighty accountable. It exposes mismanagement of the public finances, waste, corruption — all misdemeanours associated with Fianna Fail’s 14-year reign.
In the last Dail the PAC was ideally placed to tackle the FAS scandal after it was exposed in these pages. It did a reasonable job, albeit under a Fine Gael chairman, Bernard Allen.
There are plenty more FAS monsters out there, waiting to be exposed. Such monsters in need of investigation are nearly all in the grip of Fianna Fail appointees. Just before they left office Fianna Fail stuffed them with their patsies. Many of these protegees ought to be prime targets for questions from an independent PAC.
Any Fianna Fail TD should feel compromised in this situation.
The contest between McGuinness and me for the chair was wobbling along under the radar for a few weeks. Traditionally the job was given to the Opposition. As FF now has only a minority of opposition TDs, if the result had been left to a vote of the four Opposition PAC members, it would have been deadlocked at two each.
So we both needed the votes of Fine Gael and Labour to win the chair. The coalition partners would be forced off the fence.
An innocent observer might assume that Fine Gael and Labour would prefer an independent to a nominee of a disgraced party. Assume again.
Confident of success, I conducted a lobby of most Cabinet ministers. What a naive nitwit I am. The exercise was a political education.
I began to realise the writing was on the wall when a slippery senior Fine Gael minister confided that resistance to me was coming from Labour. I knew the prognosis was terminal when a Labour minister confided that resistance to me was coming from Fine Gael!
Both sides, but mainly Fine Gael, muttered about the other having reservations over my association with the Sunday Independent.
Both parties told me that a Dublin South constituency colleague was objecting. They were pointing the finger at each other. It became obvious: Fine Gael and Labour were hell bent on giving the Fianna Fail guy the gig. It looked as if the deal was cooked up weeks ago. There would be no contest. Fine Gael would take the deputy chair.
Pretty odd, unless you understand Irish politics.
Inter-party deals come first, accountability a token second. Fianna Fail in government had always given Fine Gael the PAC gig. Last week was payback time. No independent interloper was going to upset the tribal truce.
Fine Gael members were angry when they were forced to vote publicly for Fianna Fail. One infuriated Fine Gael TD tore strips off me for calling a vote. Apparently there had never before been a vote on the PAC. How cosy.
Did you ever think you would see the day? A party whip being imposed on Fine Gael and Labour TDs, instructing them to install a Fianna Fail chairman to ensure that financial ethics are enforced.
It was an appropriate way for the Government to mark its first 100 days — Tweedledum was voting for Tweedledee — but our new brooms had repeated their support for Fianna Fail’s agenda that very morning at the Bank of Ireland AGM.
Down at the O’Reilly Hall they had shored up Fianna Fail’s pet bankers.
Nothing is changing.
A revealing episode was unravelling. The board of the Bank of Ireland was taking a pasting from its shareholders. The €394,000-a-year chairman, Pat Molloy, was asking impoverished punters to pony up more money to save his bank. Pat was refusing to explain a €35m loan to a “party connected” to himself. He was turning down shareholders’ demands that directors standing for re-election explain their merits. He stood four-square behind Richie Boucher, the insider bounced into the top job under Fianna Fail, despite Boucher’s shared responsibility for the bank’s collapse.
Pat was pushing through the re-election of five directors in their seats before the 2008 banking debacle, despite a policy agreed with the Government that they should be in the departure lounge. He brushed aside demands for new board members.
Governor Pat was behaving with the same arrogant sense of security as he displayed after his 2009 resurrection had been promoted by the Fianna Fail regime.
Despite Pat’s stonewalling, there was the little matter of passing the resolutions on the agenda, the tedious item of formally re-electing the directors initially approved by Fianna Fail, the awkward detail of formally accepting the auditors’ outrageous fees of €8m a year and the remuneration of the directors. All thorny problems for a Government and bank board selling themselves as reformers.
Pat took the flak with confidence. No wonder. A few days earlier he had received notice of the new Government’s voting intentions. The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan cast the taxpayers’ 36 per cent holding in favour of all the resolutions. Fianna Fail’s pet bankers were safe for another year.
Molloy was re-elected by 99.16 per cent to 0.84 per cent. Richie Boucher, Rose Hynes, Jerome Kennedy and John O’Donovan were returned by similar margins.
Most of the old Bank of Ireland cast of characters, approved by Fianna Fail, were restored by Fine Gael and Labour. So were auditors PwC, beloved of the rotten FF regime.
Every resolution received more than two billion votes as bankers, investment managers, auditors and politicians closed ranks against the taxpayer and us small shareholders sitting in the O’Reilly Hall.
Our IMF and European masters must have looked on with smug satisfaction as the old bankers were saved by the new ministers. Unwelcome plaudits are beginning to flow from Europe. First it was Olli Rehn. Then, on Thursday, Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj even patted Enda and Michael on the back contrasting us with others. “The Irish Government,” he said approvingly, “is implementing very effectively the programme that was negotiated with the previous government.”
Touche. Politically embarrassing maybe, but on the button. At least he did not dub them clones of Fianna Fail.
Hopefully our European masters did not notice the minor matter that the Government had made Fianna Fail Ireland’s watchdog over accountability and transparency.