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Lisbon Flight for Finian

Posted on: June 28th, 2009

A date with Deep Throat on the island of Jersey.

There is still room for a few more colourful stories. Next stop, the sunny island of Nevis in the Caribbean to check all the high jinks going on out there. I hope Penguin, the publishers, will think a trip is necessary.

Instead, I assemble a few Jersey investment types for lunch. They have two interests in Ireland: they want us to do their dirty work for them by voting ‘No’ to Lisbon. And they are thrilled that Anglo Irish Bank is down and out. Many of them still confuse Anglo with AIB. They are doubly excited at the thought that Ireland’s biggest bank is bust. I disappoint them over lunch, telling them that I am voting ‘Yes’ to Lisbon and that Anglo is a different animal from AIB.

Monday

Return from Jersey as fast as possible.

The M50 is a dream. Heading from the airport at peak traffic hour I reach Enniskerry in 35 minutes. Maybe all that rumpus we kicked up about it for years was worth while. Where are all those NTR spinners, consultants who maintained that the West-Link barriers made no difference? According to the National Roads Authority the average commuter on the M50 is now saving an hour a day.

In Leinster House, Lisbon features again. I bump into Finian McGrath, the independent leftie from Dublin North Central, in the corridor. Last time he was an effective opponent of the treaty. I try to sound him out about his current stance. He cagily says he will “consult with his supporters over the next two weeks”.

I sense that Finian is about to jump to the ‘Yes’ side. He would be welcome. Expect a bit of public agonising first.

Finian is no friend of the market economy, but he is nothing if not a pragmatist.

His opposition to swashbuckling enterprise is well-known, especially as he is the Cuban ambassador’s very best friend in Ireland. He loves Fidel Castro. His big hero is James Connolly. He has described himself as an “old-fashioned Connollyite”.

A kind sleuth handed me the adjacent picture of Finian about to board a Ryanair jet in the south of France. None of all that leftist bull about boycotting the bete noir of the Left for Finian. Ah well, I remember flying first-class Aeroflot in the good old Soviet days with Deputies Michael D Higgins, Pat McCartan and Senator Joe O’Toole. It didn’t seem to contaminate me with Stalinist ideals. If Finian comes over to the ‘Yes’ side he will be a fellow traveller with Michael O’Leary.

Tuesday

An inspired leak tells me that Nick Webb and I have won the Journalist of the Year award. I affect nonchalance in the face of such trivia. Rank hypocrisy, as I am secretly craving recognition and a big fat cheque.

Awards are beneath contempt until you win one. Then they suddenly become serious recognitions of talent.

The leaker was right. We won the Business category and the Overall Journalist of the Year award for our story on FAS. There was no cheque. Ouch.

After we had entered the contest we had a good look at the judges. There was hardly a sinner we had not savaged in these pages. Mary Finan, chairman of the judges, had her tail twisted here incessantly. We were momentarily really, really sorry. The alarm bells rang when we spotted a judge by the name of Des Geraghty, not only a Siptu boss — a sin in itself — but worse still, a director of FAS, the target of the article that won the award.

Truthfully, we were pretty lucky that we had Sunday Independent money available to pay for the Freedom of Information questions and the vehicle to expose them.

But all due respect to Geraghty, who did not let his personal position stand in the way of the result.

Wednesday

Another FAS director, Danny McCoy, is beginning to look like the original fatcat.

On Wednesday, McCoy became boss of Ibec, the worse than useless employers’ group.

McCoy is one of those board members of FAS who sat tight and continued to take their €14,000-a-year salaries.

This, despite the revelations that the board had been presiding over an orgy of air travel and expenses totally unsuitable for a body set up to help the more vulnerable. Board members participated.

McCoy should have resigned months ago.

FAS is a member of Ibec. It pays the employers’ group over €50,000 annually. Rotten corporate apples stick in the same barrel.

McCoy was a fine economist in the ESRI, many years ago. Ever since he joined Ibec and then FAS, he has lost his edge. He went native within weeks.

Someone should ask McCoy who pulls the strings at Ibec? He will try to call the Ibec corpse an “enterprise” — but make no mistake, McCoy will be the mouthpiece of the big banks and semi-state monopolies, the guys who give Ibec its six-figure subscriptions.

Perhaps McCoy could start his term by telling us about his pay package? He is a top “social partner”, so let’s have a little transparency.

Trade unionist Eamon Devoy was dead honest on Tuesday when he pronounced social partnership dead. The social partners could only operate when there was plenty of cake to dispense among themselves. Today there is no cake.

Bearded trade union chief David Begg admitted as much on RTE’s Morning Ireland this morning when he bleated about the need for €1bn for employment.

When he was asked where the money would come from, he waffled about it being “self-financing”. So let’s make it €20bn, €30bn — any old number we choose.

The most amazing part of Begg’s interview was when he told us that he had “spent several hours with the Taoiseach and other ministers last night trying to get them to a point where they would put a billion on the table”.

No one can blame David. But what in the name of God was Brian Cowen doing wasting hours of his time talking to Begg? Cowen is obsessed with social partnership. He should listen to Eamon Devoy. It is dead.

Thursday

Or perhaps he should have listened to his own Finance Minister on Thursday’s Morning Ireland. Brian Lenihan was having no truck with the social partners nonsense. He made it clear that Begg’s subsidy for the workers outing could distort the jobs market. State aid often does.

Lenihan increasingly offers the only authoritative voice of government. He is on top of his brief and has earned the confidence of overseas investors. He was not part of the old Ahern-Cowen 2005-07 financial duo that brought the economy down. His problem is that every time he emphasises that the crisis was not of his making, he inadvertently drops poor Cowen in it.

As his stock rises, his boss’s drops.

After listening to Lenihan, I head for Bray District Court, to reapply for my auctioneering licence. It goes through within two minutes.

The garda in the court offers no objection. The judge approves it. About 10 others go through in a matter of minutes.

I presume these applicants can read, write and add, but that is not necessary by law. They can be just as ignorant as I am about property values and trade houses by the bucketful.

Friday

Brian Cowen surfaces to be interviewed by Sean O’Rourke about the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) verdict on Ireland.

He sounds more like a man making an effort to reassert his own position following Lenihan’s outing on Morning Ireland yesterday.

O’Rourke again hangs the 2005-07 period around poor Cowen’s neck. The Taoiseach tries to divert the grilling to talk of today’s action by the Government, which the IMF has broadly supported.

Again he clings to the old irrelevant “social partnership” model.

The awkward truth is that he and Bertie were in charge of the economy when the orgy of bank overlending and builder insanity was encouraged by government.

Lenihan was happily tucked away in the Department of Justice — looking after auctioneering licences and other less weighty matters.