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If Kevin’s that Good, Keep him

Posted on: November 27th, 2011

Can we afford to lose a civil servant of the calibre of Kevin Cardiff? The paeans of praise being poured on Kevin’s head by government ministers would make you wonder. Why are we letting this genius go?

God knows, we need people of ability in the Department of Finance. We crave guys with experience of bad bankers and budget deficits. Kevin has both in spades.

Listen to Michael Noonan’s words on Thursday as the Cardiff carnival crashed to the ground. Insisting that the Fine Gael/Labour clique would stand by Kevin, the Minister for Finance declared that Kevin was “a decent civil servant with a long record, more qualified for the job than any of his predecessors”.

Quite a claim. Especially when he includes present Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, former cabinet colleague Barry Desmond and an assortment of civil servants in their number.

Indeed Michael should know. He has bedded down with Kevin for the last 10 months as the minister and secretary-general huddled together in the Merrion Street bunker. Michael is in a unique position to judge Kevin’s talents. So why is he letting him go? Especially as he holds him in such high esteem.

But Michael was not alone in being hypnotised by Kevin’s abilities.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore circled the wagons around the beleaguered Kevin in the Dail on Thursday. Taoiseach Enda Kenny went one further on Wednesday when he contacted Joseph Daul, the head of the European People’s Party, begging him to rally his troops behind Kevin at the budgetary committee the following afternoon. Late in the day, the Irish powers-that-be realised that Kevin’s promotion was in danger.

Seven out of eight nominees flew through the nomination hoops on Wednesday. Kevin’s nomination was rejected by 12 votes to 11. Enda could not conceal his annoyance at the result when he claimed that “the shock result of the vote does not appear to reflect the quality of the hearing”.

Awful things, these secret ballots.

Bertie would have been proud of his prose.

The shock reverse was humiliating for Kevin, Enda, Eamon, Michael and Ireland.

The European People’s Party gave Enda its answer. In response to his pleas, those who are part of the same group in the European Parliament, gave the Taoiseach the two fingers.

Reuters picked up the story. ‘Irish government red-faced after EU nominee rejected’ blared the headline. The international news agency described the defeat as “a major embarrassment to the government”.

We were a laughing stock.

Would such a mishap ever happen to Angela Merkel’s nominee? Hell would freeze over first.

Kevin’s defeat revealed how low our stock has fallen in Europe.

Ireland carries no clout at the top table. The European People’s Party that voted Kevin down is allied to Angela’s Christian Democrats. Imagine the retribution if they had challenged Angela’s protegees.

But Ireland is different. A week earlier Enda of the European People’s Party and Angela of the same European People’s Party had met in Berlin. It was flagged as a meeting of equals.

Enda genuflected while Angela approved his posture.

All that genuflection has done Enda, Eamon, Michael and Ireland no good. Ireland has been given a pat on the head, while its candidate was given a flea in the ear.

The current Coalition thinks that it can treat appointments to European institutions the same way as it treats Irish quangos. Musical chairs for the loyalists or compensation for the departing. Merit is pretty well irrelevant.

Unfortunately for Enda, Eamon and Michael, Europe (unlike Ireland) insists on a pretty basic screening process.

The interview is not very demanding, but requires a minimum of information.

Like, how was there a €3.6bn mistake in the nation’s books? And what was candidate Kevin’s responsibility for the error?

Like so many mysteries in Ireland, the €3.6bn question is now under investigation. By the time the internal probe is over, Kevin could already be ratified. If it made adverse findings, what would the Court of Auditors do with Kevin?

The second worry was Kevin’s role in the banking crisis here.

It was pivotal.

Kevin was one of the key players on that fateful night of the bank guarantee in September 2008. Enda is fond of referring to that evening in dark terms when he is exchanging unpleasantries with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in the Dail.

Fair political jousting, but Enda should remember that his nominee for the European Court of Auditors is one of only two survivors of that fiasco. Kevin and deputy secretary William Beausang are the last men standing.

What ever happened to all the players who put the country in hock on that night?

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has been thrown out of office. Brian Lenihan is sadly no longer among us. Bank of Ireland chairman Richard Burrows and chief executive Brian Goggin resigned. Ditto AIB’s Dermot Gleeson and Eugene Sheehy. Kevin’s predecessor at the Department of Finance, David Doyle, has retired. Government Secretary Dermot McCarthy has departed with a €700,000 package. Financial Regulator Paddy Neary was forced out of his job. Central Bank governor John Hurley has retired. The Attorney-General Paul Gallagher has returned to the Bar Library.

All bar two of the principal players present on the night have left the stage. But not Kevin. He is heading for dizzier heights.

It is difficult to reconcile the disappearance of so many with the promotion of Kevin. Unless you understand how Irish governments think.

The European Court of Auditors gig is a piece of patronage in the hands of sovereign governments. It was given by his political masters to former Labour minister Barry Desmond. It was given by Fianna Fail to former FF minister Maire Geoghegan- Quinn. Second only to the commissioner’s job, it is the plum position in the government’s gift.

Remember that Bertie moved Charlie McCreevy to Brussels by elevating him to the commissionership. Charlie did not want to go, but Bertie wanted to see the back of him. Similarly, Kevin may not, after all, have been the most popular figure with Michael, Enda and Eamon. Was the opening in Europe being used as a vehicle to vacate the top position in the Department of Finance?

Enda, Eamon and Michael are now on a spit. They have praised Kevin’s talents to the rooftops. Their cavalier attitude to important posts, both at home and abroad, have landed them in this mess. They are unused to appointments being challenged by elected representatives.

Europe has rumbled us.

Enough arms will probably be twisted to ensure that Kevin will still be accepted by a full vote of the European Parliament. Otherwise the Government is faced with a nightmare scenario: the current secretary-general of the Department of Finance may be back in Merrion Street at the helm. After lavishing praise on him they will find it difficult not to welcome his return to the old job.