Despite a stormy political week in Leinster House, Fianna Fáil are still on top in of top of things writes Aidan Kirrane.
Dáil Éireann reconvened on Wednesday 24th September as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael returned to their seats in Leinster House. From the offset, Enda Kenny’s opposition attacked Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his government, arguing that it should be Fine Gael and not the ‘Soldiers of Destiny’ leading the country in these increasingly difficult times.
Unsurprisingly, the economy took centre stage and Fine Gael and Labour wasted no time in confronting Cowen about how and when the government would deal with the current economic problems facing the country and questioning what they described as the government’s ‘reckless economic policies’.
The opposition threw down the gauntlet when the government refused Fine Gael’s request to clear its agenda to have an emergency debate on the economy by revoking the pairing system. The pairing system is an agreement between government and opposition to match TDs with a member of opponent’s side who will refrain from voting in House matters in their partner’s absence.
Despite talk of the pairing system causing the Taoiseach to miss his address to the United Nations, the government failed to give in to the opposition’s demand. Some de facto pairs took place and Cowen made it to New York as planned.
The refusal of the government to hold the debate shows its intent not to be pushed around and subjected to bully-boy tactics by the opposition and its desire to handle the financial crisis their way. One can understand that Kenny thought that barring pairing would back the government into a corner.
There was always a strong possibility however that such a ploy would only serve to antagonise the government and make them less willing to yield to opposition requests. Failure to realise this shows a lack of foresight on Kenny’s part.
While there was to be no emergency debate, the opposition wasted no time grilling the Taoiseach about the economy and his plans for dealing with the current instability in the global financial system during regular House time.
Cowen defended his government’s policies and pointed to the bringing forward of the budget to 14th October as an example of the affirmative action being taken. Opposition TDs were unswayed with Labour’s spokesperson on finance, Joan Burton, calling the advancement a “cynical attempt at media manipulation”.
The government’s move to guarantee deposits in Irish banks has been backed by Fine Gael however. While Enda Kenny stated that the situation would have to be monitored closely, he acknowledged it as a step in the right direction.
Criticism of a government’s approach to finance is inevitable in good times and bad. While there was more urgency in the criticism last week than in the days of yore when the Celtic Tiger was purring healthily, Fine Gael’s approval of the guarantee shows that they are aware that the government are doing their best and that Fine Gael would do little differently if they were in control.
This autumn will be the first time Kenny and Cowen are sparring partners for a session’s entirety and Kenny did not delay in hitting out at the Taoiseach. He accused Cowen of ‘gross political cowardice’ as Taoiseach and of falling into a ‘financial slurry pit’ as Minister for Finance.
Cowen responded by assuring the opposition that any lessons from mistakes made in the past had been learnt.
Political experts in the United States comment that George Washington was the only president not to blame his troubles on the previous administration. If the opposition were handed the reins of power it is imaginable that Fine Gael would echo Washington’s successors. It appears that the government is doing its upmost to reduce the effects of the recession and it is difficult to see how Fine Gael would handle the situation differently if at the helm of the country.
One can easily envisage a government led by Kenny would point the finger of blame at the current Fianna Fáil administration if their policies failed. If they were elected such accusations would amount to political hypocrisy.
Despite the usual disparaging remarks thrown from opposition to government, it does not appear that Fine Gael would undertake the situation differently to Fianna Fáil. Enda Kenny’s approval of the scheme to guarantee bank deposits is testament to this.
A politician thinks of the next election while a statesman thinks of the next generation. While Fine Gael would never admit it, perhaps it is better, and indeed necessary to retain the current government. A change of government might only serve to rock the boat further in a time where the country is sailing through turbulent enough seas as it is.
The 14th October will no NaNatanzdoubt be circled in Cowen’s diary as the date that Brian Lenihan’s budget could, and hopefully should, put the country in the strongest position to deal with the global recession. If the budget fails to deliver it could very well orchestrate the fall of Brian Cowen and his government.
However, for now at least, the government appears to be weathering the storm and despite what Enda Kenny might say, Cowen and his cabinet appear capable of leading the country through the largest problem Ireland has faced in recent years. ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’- it doesn’t appear too hot for the Taoiseach and his government just yet.