Friday, 15 June 2007

Dismal Opening of Dáil

THE SUN DID NOT SHINE in Dublin yesterday for the opening of the new Dáil.

It was a truly dismal occasion in mid-June, cold rain the order of the day.

THE OUTGOING TAOISEACH Bartholomew Ahern was elected after a vote to a third term, and most of the old Fianna Fáil faces were back in Government.

John O'Donoghue, Fianna Fáil, was elected Cathaoirleach after a vote.

Changes in Cabinet include Ministers
Brian Cowen (FF) new Tanaiste (retains Finance),
Seamus Brennan (FF) Arts, Sports and Tourism,
Eamon Ryan (Greens) Communications, Energy and Natural Resources,
John Gormley, (Greens) Environment, Heritage and Local Government,
Brian Lenihan Jr (FF) Justice, Equality and Law Reform,
Martin Cullen, (FF) Social and Family Affairs,
Noel Dempsey (FF) Transport and Marine.


Bartholomew Ahern the Taoiseach will forever be remembered as a friend of Bush and Blair, stepping in line and marching to Bush's tune.

John O'Donoghue, the new Cathaoirleach, was seen on Ireland's Day of Shame running from the Dáil to the Ministry for Justice chased by angry women seeking revenge for Iraq.

That same year, Brian Cowen, the new Tanaiste, was seen doing a similar 100 metre sprint away from an anti-war activist-with-a-microphone outside the Fianna Fáil meeting place in Killarney.

Brian Lenihan Jr, new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was seen standing outside the same venue on the same day refusing for 15 minutes an invitation to a mike to debate the issue of Shannon with another anti-war activist ("Brian Lenihan sent me to tell you he has only two words to say to you and the second one is 'Off'!" a messenger later told the protestor).

Martin Cullen, the new Minister for Social and Family Affairs, is remembered as the Minister who in 2004 spent 52 million euro on unreliable electronic voting machines that were put into cold storage - where they remain at a cost of nearly 1 million euro annually.

Séamus Brennan, the new Minister for the Arts, Sport and Tourism, was the Minister who told the Irish nation on the 1 o'clock news on 3 February 2003 that the 5 Pitstop Ploughshare activists who disabled a plane at Shannon airport had hospitalized a Garda. When this proved totally without foundation he did not retract or apologize, nor did he do so even when all five were unanimously found not guilty of all charges against them by a Dublin jury.

IN THE DÁIL CHAMBER, it was odd to see the Green Party members alongside Fianna Fáil and the PDs. It had the look of the holy people sitting in the abomination of desolation.

AFTER AN ENDLESS MONOTONY of routine speeches and protocol, however, there was an unholy row when Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Leader Patrick Rabbitte reminded the Greens of their erstwhile principles and were treated to a highly charged outburst by Trevor Sargent.

EARLIER, INDEPENDENT ANTONY GREGORY'S SPEECH stood out as a brilliant recording of the sickness that appears to have stricken the Irish body politic and through it the Irish Parliament. In this new Dáil, both he and the four Sinn Féin deputies will have a fight on their hands to speak at all. The departure of four Indpendents and the Greens to the Government benches leaves them isolated despite the efforts of Caoimhín Ó Caoilean to remedy the situation from the start.

ALL IN ALL A DAY WITHOUT MUCH PROMISE, but who knows what the first 100 days will produce. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Green Party Sell-out.

BY A MAJORITY of 86% to 14% Green Party members voted this evening to join with Fianna Fáil and the PDs in Government. Three or four Independents will also support the re-election of Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach. Trevor Sargent resigned as Green Party leader as he had promised to do in such an eventuality. Still he proclaimed himself delighted with the result.

THIS GREEN PARTY who were the most vocal in Ireland against corrupt practices in public office, who rejected the brown envelope tradition, who demanded an end to the US military use of Ireland's civilian Shannon Airport, who appeared to be champions for the conservation of national monuments, who opposed the export of live cattle, who supported Shell to Sea in their fight against Shell and the Irish Government, who said that they would stop Mary Harney’s ‘co-location’ plans to build private hospitals on public land have now accepted power alongside the Party most responsible for corrupt practices including the "Brown Envelope", the party responsible for letting out Shannon airport to George W Bush, the party that is driving a motorway through Tara of the High Kings, now declared one of the world's 100 most endangered monuments, the party that supports Shell, the party that supports and carries out the export of live cattle, and the Party pushing for, and about to implement, co-location of hospitals under the stewardship of the same Mary Harney.

THE DEAL DONE with Fianna Fáil gained only minimum benefits for the Greens.

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISTS vigilled outside the Mansion House all afternoon and evening begging delegates not to do this deal. They were joined by Shell to Sea supporters, Tara preservation supporters and others. Among these groups, especially among anti-war activists, there is a sense of helpless outrage not matched since Ireland's Day of Shame, 20 March 2003, when the Fianna Fáil-PD Government granted rights to Bush to use Shannon for the war he had just started in Iraq - all without UN approval. (Unprecedented protests had followed including a "ring around the Dáil" in which the Garda Special Response Unit used heavy-handed tactics in the arrests of hundreds of sit-down peaceful protestors)

GREEN PARTY SUPPORTERS may be pardoned for feeling that the Parliamentary Party and paid-up members have sold out, taken the shilling and let them down.

IT NOW APPEARS VIRTUALLY CERTAIN that Fianna Fáil and Bartholomew Ahern are back in Government for another five years. What was not expected was that it would be the Green Party that would copper-fasten this happening.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Fall of the Green Party

After playing ping-pong all day today - deal, no deal, deal, no deal - just before the nine o'clock RTE news, the Green Party agreed a final draft of a Programme for Government with Fianna Fáil. They must get a two thirds majority tomorrow afternoon from their members in the Mansion House to ratify the decision of the leadership and negotiating team.

The news will come as a shock to many Green supporters who will look incredulously at a programme that will probably ignore the continued use of Shannon airport by US military to maintain their control of Iraqi oil, the destruction of Tara for a new motorway, the co-location and privatization of hospitals under outgoing Minister Mary Harney, not to speak of the contradictions in the Taoiseach's explanations of receipts of money - which the Greens and PDs had made an election issue.

One re-elected Green TD, Ciaran Cuffe, had written on his own blog that a potential coalition with Fianna Fail was a "deal with the devil".

We have seen unexpected deals in Ireland before. This one, if it happens, will rival the flip-flop of Labour when they returned Fianna Fáil in 1992 after the electorate had given Labour 33 seats believing that in doing so they were getting rid of Fianna Fáil

Monday, 11 June 2007

Fianna Fáil May be Using Resurrected Offer of Talks to Greens as a Decoy

FIANNA FÁIL KEPT THE GREENS TALKING for six days - and, after several Green deadlines had expired, the Greens eventually walked out. No sooner had they left the room than the crafty Fianna Fáil heads began to lure them back. Remember, while they are talking to Fianna Fáil, they cannot be negotiating with Fine Gael and the presumption that Bartholomew Ahern will again be Taoiseach is a winning headline for the media.

UNDECIDED INDEPENDENTS, the two PD deputies and even the four Sinn Féin deputies are supposed to feel threatened if they don't join the winning Fianna Fáil bandwagon. So, the media pundits who always seem to decide these matters have declared that the new Government will consist of 78 Fianna Fáilers, 4 Independents and 2 PDs with the possible addition of the 6 Green members to give "stability" to Bartholomew Ahern's new Government. Why only 4 Independents? Because the fifth, Anthony Gregory, is in Bartholomew's own constituency and Bartholomew could not be seen, in return for Gregory's support, to be giving favours to his own voters that had been bargained from him by a rival in his own backyard. So, he never approached Gregory.

THERE IS A PRESUMPTION in Fianna Fáil that the other four Independents are ready to play ball and the 2 PDs are taken for granted. The Independents and PDs have not said this themselves and all of them, being pragmatic people, have left their options open even at this late stage. The dallying with the Greens is an important public exercise on the part of Fianna Fáil in helping people to make up their minds fast.

SO, ENDA KENNY'S DECISION not to concede defeat on the night of the count or since, in spite of scoffing by radio, TV and other media pundits, has paid dividends for everyone except Fianna Fáil. If the latter do go into Government, it will be at the maximum cost to themselves whether their partners are the mixed grill of Greens, Independents and PDs or the Labour Party. Until now, Labour have been left out of the equation, probably because they would demand five ministries.

AND NOT EVEN the stability of Government desired by Bartholomew would be worth the wrath that would fall on his head if he had to concede so much to an Opposition Party. Meanwhile, Enda Kenny is keeping his cool, knowing that there is always a chance, however small, that the winning chips might fall into his lap.

Friday, 8 June 2007


THE TALKS between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have broken down. They failed to reach agreement on issues such as climate change, the Environment, health, education, transport, energy despite having made enormous progress "on a number of issues". WHAT THEY AGREED ON IS NOT CLEAR.

GREEN PARTY leader Trevor Sargent said the party is now ready to talk to all other parties including Fine Gael in order to form a Goverment. Neither the Greens nor Fianna Fáil have ruled out another attempt to reach agreement although they failed to agree after six days of negotiations.

WITHOUT THE GREENS, Fianna Fáil would be depending on the two PDs and three Independents to reach 83 seats. The three Independents on whom they expect to rely include BEVERLY FLYNN who herself faces a charge of bankruptcy over an alleged failure to pay 2,8848,088 euro in legal costs when she lost her case for libel against RTE who reported that she had encouraged or assisted a number of persons in tax evasion. The case against Beverly Flynn comes up on Monday, June 18, four days after the Dáil is expected to convene.

THE GREEN PARTY CONFERENCE, scheduled for Sunday June 10, has been called off. Once again, it's all to play for.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Minister Dempsey says agreement with Greens "very, very likely"

THE LATEST SIGNS ARE that a Fianna-Fáil, Green Party and PD coalition is on. Minister Noel Dempsey told RTE'1's Lunchtime that he thinks it very, very likely that FF and the Greens will be in Government. Meanwhile, Minister Mary Hanafin told another radio host on Newstalk 106 that the deal now looked possible. Indeed she sounded very confident on an earlier radio show where she was outlining programmes for the future as if she had already been sanctioned as the new Minister for Education and Science., the post she holds at present.

THE AVAILABILITY of the PDs in such a scenario appears inevitable as is the support of three Independent TDs: (former Fianna Fáilers) JOHN HEALY RAY and BEVERLY FLYNN and (former Fine Gaeler) MICHAEL LOWRY. The PDs will be disappointed if MARY HARNEY does not get back as Minister of Health where she intends to privatize health, beginning with the co-location of hospitals.

HOWEVER ON SUNDAY NEXT, the Green Party chiefs must face their own members at a Conference (no seats available) to get their permission for the agreement. The questions about Shannon, Tara, co-location of hospitals, the sell-out of national gas rights in Mayo (and consequent mishandling by Shell and Gardaí of local protests at Rossport and Bellanaboy on safety and environmental grounds) may figure high on Question Time there but at this stage, it looks as if the Green Party top brass may themselves have sold out on all four issues. Only time will tell.

IF THE DEAL FALLS through for any reason, all other options will re-open.

Nothing dramatic happened at The Mahon Tribunal which re-commenced this morning. Thomas Gilmartin was back and the Tribunal ground slowly on. Ther was a hearsay remark about a former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, but nothing about Bartholomew Ahern.

FINE GAEL STILL BREATHE DOWN THE NECKS of all the high profile participants in the talks, with Enda Kenny reminding all and sundry yet again at his own Parliamentary meeting that no defeat has been conceded

Monday, 4 June 2007

Will the Green Party do a deal with Fianna Fáil?

ALL THROUGHOUT YESTERDAY, the Green Party Comhaontas Glas were not just chatting with Fianna Fáil deputies - they were in serious talks about entering a Coalition with Fianna Fáil. Earlier promises made by Green Party leader Trevor Sargent that he would resign as leader in such an eventuality are now in serious danger of being broken. Immediately before the election, after receiving advice from their counterparts in Germany, the Greens gave notice that they wanted power in Government to implement Green policies. They lost votes and seats by the mixed messages coming from their different candidates thereafter but now that the election is over they appear to be hungry for power in Government.

THE NEWS IS that Fianna Fáil are surprised and co-operative. Having the Greens on board would relieve them of the necessity to bargain with difficult Independents.
FF, the Greens and probably the PDs would provide a handsome 86 votes to elect Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach. An Independent or two would be icing on the cake.

TALKS ARE CONFIDENTIAL but rumours that the FF delegates were surprised at the maturity shown by Green delegates reads to me as if the Greens will not be striking a hard bargain.

I'M WONDERING, for instance, if these vexed questions will be addressed with success or quietly forgotten: the use of Shannon airport for US military use, the co-location of hospitals in Tallaght (State land being sold to private owners for a private hospital on the same site where an existing public hospital stands), the desecration of the Tara site for a new motorway, corporate donations (which bolstered the "brown envelope" tradition of payment to politicians for rezoning land, and led to numerous costly Tribunals that have got bogged down for nearly a decade), the live export of cattle, electronic voting - all of which were opposed by the Greens and favoured by Fianna Fáil. Not to mention the high ethical standards demanded by the Greens in their condemnation of standards obtaining at present.

TV AND RADIO COMMENTATORS are appearing smug and "knowing" about the present talks, prophesying further developments based solely on calculations of gross personal gain to deputies. So an editor of the Irish Independent last night commented on RTE's "Week in Politics", in a non-joking practical way, that the post of Ceann Comhairle held perks such as a state car that would entice many deputies.

THE TALKS WITH THE GREENS continue today. Independent Michal Lowry has also announced that Bartholomew has been in touch and wants to talk.

IF THE GREEN TALKS FAIL, then Labour may be waiting for an invite from the Taoiseach. Meanwhile, the Alternative Coalition is still alive and, while it remains alive, it puts pressure on Fianna Fáil to make bigger offers to all who remain unattached - at present that includes everyone.

AND STILL, THE CLOUDS of the Mahon Tribunal hang like a foreboding canopy of dark grey over all the talks, all the bargaining, all the prognostications.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Elections 2007 - doors still wide open

TODAY'S NEWS IS that there is still no new Government formed. Parties have been meeting. At last, it has been established that there are, as yet, no clear winners. The magic number is 83. Fianna Fáil (78) must work even for the support of their 2 PD colleagues. Fine Gael (51) must fight even to keep the Labour Party on board of their proposed alternative coalition. The king makers as between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are: Labour Party (20), PDs (2), Green Party Comhaontas Glas (6), Independents (5), Sinn Féin (4).

From day to day, the preferred options vary.
TODAY, THE FAVOURITES among media pundits are: FIANNA FÁIL, GREEN PARTY and PDs - making a total of 86 for the re-election of Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach of a new Coalition Government.

The difficulties here include the contentious questions of the present destruction of a major part of the historic Tara site through which the present Government is building a new motorway, the use of Irish airports, especially Shannon, for the transport of US troops to the war arena in Iraq, electronic voting (all at variance with Green aspirations). On many other environmental issues such as the pollution of water, global warming, renewable energy, public transport, improved building standards, it would be likely that Fianna Fáil might acquiesce or the Greens compromise (if FF have not already stolen the clothes of the Greens). Also, the PDs and Greens haven't much in common. The abolition of "corporate donations" (to political parties) is also high on the Greens agenda. Nor can Fianna Fáil rely unequivocally on PD support any longer.
Many Fianna Fáil TDs will also be uneasy sharing power with the Greens.
A bigger problem here may be the clouds hanging over Taoiseach Bartholomew Ahern from the Mahon Tribunal (postponed till Wednesday 6 June because of the illness of its star witness, Thomas Gilmartin).

ANOTHER COMBINATION, high up among the favourites, are: FIANNA FÁIL, the PDs and INDEPENDENTS John Healy Ray, Beverly Flynn, Finian McGrath, Michael Lowry and Anthony Gregory - making a total of 85 for the re-election of Bartholomew as Taoiseach of a slightly different Coalition Government.

The difficulties facing this combination are the demands the Independents will make for giving their support. Here are the Independents in question:

JOHN HEALY RAY, better known as JACKIE Healy ray, a former Fianna Fáil TD, has already supported Bartholomew in return for favours unspecified, beneficial to Healy-Ray's constituency in Co Kerry. Fianna Fáil would be confident of his support again although officially this Deputy has kept his options open.

BEVERLY FLYNN, expelled from Fianna Fáil after her action for libel against a TV reporter failed, is believed to want back into the party. Her support should be easily achieved, although not at her own price.

FINIAN MCGRATH was one of the deputies who gave a guarantee before the election not to participate in any Government that would allow Shannon Airport or other Irish facilities to be used by the United States to conduct war in Iraq or any other imperialist war. As Bartholomew's Government committed Ireland to this war even before it was declared supposedly "legal" by the UN, and as he has worked closely with both George W Bush and Anthony Blair in supporting its continued execution, this could well be an insoluble difference denying Bartholomew this Deputy's support.
A former soup runner for the homeless of Dublin and Simon Community worker, McGrath would also be expected to strike a hard bargain on many "agreed" subjects - replacing lip-service with action on a wide range of issues including the homeless, the sick, the disabled, workers, children, the under-addressed issue of bullying in Irish schools and many local problems.

MICHAEL LOWRY, like Beverly Flynn, was in trouble with his own party (Fine Gael). The cloud over him had formed because of the revelation at another Tribunal (the McCracken Tribunal) that supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne had paid IR£395,000 for an extension to his home in Tipperary. He resigned from Cabinet in November 1996 and resigned from Fine Gael, being subsequently re-elected as an Independent.
This deputy should have no difficulty in supporting Fianna Fáil, having already made a statement that they look the more realistic prospect. However, his vote is still not promised.

ANTHONY GREGORY, better known as TONY Gregory, elected in Bartholomew's own constituency, may not have been yet contacted by Bartholomew. In a previous election he had struck the hardest bargain ever for his support for Taoiseach Charles Haughey, making the famous "Gregory Deal" public immediately and promising that he might withdraw his support on any disputed issue during the life-time of the Government. In November 1982, true to his promise, he helped bring down the Haughey Government by abstention on a vote of confidence.
The Gregory Deal was a signpost for some of the issues that are closest to this Deputy's heart - civil and social rights, housing, social and community structures, respect and help for people in disadvantaged areas, for the neglected, for workers and the poor, with particular emphasis on his own inner city constituency. Close on policy issues to the defeated Joe Higgins, like him and Finian McGrath he vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq and Ireland's participation in it through the use of Shannon airport, and like both of them signed the declaration not to participate in any Government that would allow Shannon Airport or other Irish facilities to be used by the United States to conduct war in Iraq or any other imperialist war.
He understands the machinations of Government and is nobody's fool. He will be expected to strike a hard bargain for his support

A third favourite combination is:FIANNA FÁIL and the LABOUR PARTY allowing for a total of 98 votes for Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach of a new Coalition Government

The difficulties here are the strong unrelenting promises of Labour leader Patrick Rabbitte not to enter Government with Fianna Fáil and a recollection of what happened to the Party when a previous leader, Richard Spring, unexpectedly did a 180 degree turnabout after an election and returned Fianna Fáil to power . Rabbitte is strong on his convictions and in spite of internal turmoil, will not be expected to cave in or turn his back on his pre-election arrangement with Enda Kenny and Fine Gael unless and until the latter concedes defeat.
However, there are internal dissensions in Labour as in all parties suffering an apparent electoral setback
Significantly, this combination also appears to be last on the Taoiseach's wish list although you couldn't be sure whether the public message from Bartholomew on this subject truly reflects what he believes in private.
As with all other prospective partners of Fianna Fáil, PDs, Greens and Independents, the fear of the revelations from the Mahon Tribunal about Bartholomew's veracity re money transactions may put a hold on any Labour Party decision also to commit absolutely to entering Government with Fianna Fáil.

THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE ABOVE is the Alternative Coalition back-boned by Fine Gael and Labour with their combined total of 71 votes.

The possibilities here are just two:
FINE GAEL, LABOUR, GREEN PARTY, PDs, and 4 INDEPENDENTS with a total of 83 votes.

AS OF NOW, none of the deputies outside the Fianna Fáil party is committed beforehand and the fact that Enda Kenny has held out hope for all of them in an Alternative Government means that each one, even the 2 PDs, can hold out and bargain for the better option for themselves.

IN BOTH OF THESE SCENARIOS, some of the same difficulties exist as obtained for the Fianna Fáil-led possibilities, e.g. PDs co-existing with Greens, Independents and two Labour deputies bound by their commitments on the use of Shannon airport, some Green policies at variance with those of Fine Gael, Independents' priorities at variance with PDs, and some with Fine Gael and Labour. The big obstacle NOT looming on the horizon to scupper these two options are the expected revelations of the ongoing Mahon Tribunal..

THERE ARE OTHER SCENARIOS too depending on which party offers to make a sacrifice and accept the office of Ceann Comhairle, a double-edged sword, as, if the votes tie, the Ceann Comhairle can give the decisive vote , otherwise the Ceann Comhairle has no vote.

IN ALL OF THE ABOVE, the 4 SINN FÉIN deputies have been omitted from the equation. This is because the big parties have excluded them beforehand. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not they will exclude them if they can make a difference. It has never been explained satisfactorily how Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour agree that Sinn Féin - members of this same party - should hold Executive seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and even have laboured long and hard to ensure that this should come to pass, and yet exclude them as a matter of principle from sharing power in the Republic of Ireland.
All 4 have made the commitment concerning the use of Shannon airport, which leaves them in the same position as two Independents and two Labour deputies with whom they have also found much in common on social justice and human rights issues. This then is not the reason for their exclusion.

IF SINN FÉIN WERE CONSIDERED "WORTHY", which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, the configurations given above would all need alteration. Both alternatives could benefit from their inclusion. In a previous Government, Sinn Féin the Workers Party, previously taboo on the political scene, were warmly welcomed into Government under their new name of Democratic Left. Former members of Sinn Féin the Workers Party are none other than Patrick Rabbitte, present leader of the Labour Party, and Proinsias de Rossa who serves with distinction in the European Parliament after a term in the Irish Government as Minister for Social Welfare.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Elections are over but it's still all to play for.

THE ELECTIONS ARE OVER. The count was held last Friday and Saturday, and by Sunday the position was fairly clear. There are 166 seats in Dáil Éireann. All have now been filled.

A party or parties wishing to form a Government should in theory have 84 members but 83 would be plenty if someone from the new Opposition accepted the office of Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) who presides over Dáil debates.


Fianna Fáil (FF) 78 Fine Gael (FG) 51 Labour (Lab) 20 Green Party (GP) 6 Independents (Ind) 5 Sinn Féin (SF) 4 Progressive Democrats(PD) 2

The state of the parties before the election was:

FF 81 FG 31 Lab 21 GP 6 Ind 13 SF 5 PD 8 Socialist Party (SP) 1

Fianna Fáil had lost 3 seats, Fine Gael gained 20, Labour lost 1, Green Party no change, Sinn Féin lost 1, PDs lost 6, SP lost its only member.

Notable losers were Tanaiste Michael McDowell, leader of the PDs who retired from politics on the spot, and the Socialist Party's Joe Higgins, anti-war champion, defender of the poor and the Dáil's most colourful and eloquent orator.

NO GOVERNMENT HAS FORMED AS YET. Early predictions were that Fianna Fáil would form the new Government either with the help of the PDs and five Independents OR with PDs, the Greens and some Independents OR with Labour,including possibly others. That was the order of preference indicated by the Taoiseach BARTHOLOMEW AHERN in an interview on Sunday on Sky TV.

ENDA KENNY of FINE GAEL stubbornly refused to concede defeat. Kenny's stubbornness has meant that all parties and none (with the possible exception of Sinn Féin) are at present in discussions about who will be the next Taoiseach. Bargains can be made, promises elicited, shopping lists presented. Both FF and FG have, publicly at least, ruled out doing business with Sinn Féin.

THE ELECTIONS WERE SCARCELY FINISHED and winners and losers had scarcely dusted themselves down when a Tribunal of Inquiry, postponed because of the elections, re-opened on Monday 28 May and new difficulties for Taoiseach Bartholomew began to emerge. The Tribunal, in its opening statement, pointed out that it had found discrepancies between Bartholomew's account of moneys lodged to an Allied Irish Banks (AIB) account and the Tribunal's own findings.

BARTHOLOMEW HAD SAID earlier to a Tribunal lawyer in private session that a crucial £30,000 Sterling received in cash from a Mr Wall of Manchester had been lodged by his partner Celia Larkin in the said Bank on 5 December 1994. Bartholomew was then Minister for Finance. However, the only Sterling (British) money lodged on that day in that bank was a mere £1200 sterling (approximately). No sight of £30,000 in sterling. However a large sum, in Irish punts (IR£) which would amount to exactly $45,000 (US) was lodged in the bank on that day. The implication was that Ms Larkin had made a lodgment in dollars. The question was Who might have given her such a sum in dollars. After all, the mentioned £30,000 had come from a Manchester businessman. And Bartholomew said he had never dealt in dollars. A row with the Tribunal itself ensued.

DARKENING CLOUDS THICKENED OVER BARTHOLOMEW at the very time that the king-making deputies were considering their options. This evening, Sinn Féin threw out an invitation to both sides to deal with them as they are open to talks.

THERE SEEMS TO BE only one thing certain now: The shape and content of the next Dáil will be very, very interesting.

Monday, 28 May 2007


THE MEDIA CONTROVERSY about the Taoiseach's house and money eventually died down.

On Tuesday, 15 May 2007, Taoiseach BARTHOLOMEW AHERN received another accolade - in Britain. He was the first Taoiseach to address both Houses of Parliament - feted for his part in bringing a political solution to Northern Ireland and received astonishing and embarrassing praise from the departing Prime Minister ANTHONY BLAIR. "I have met many great world figures over the past decade but I've never met a bigger one than Bertie Ahern.” said Mr Blair. Rival ENDA KENNY who had also been invited had to sit through both speech and flattery. Bartholomew also received a standing ovation. Bartholomew failed to give credit to his own predecessors, Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey or to Enda's predecessors, Garret Fitzgerald and John Bruton, nor to Enda himself, nor to Labour leaders including Pat Rabbitte neither did he mention JOHN HUME, SEAMUS MALLON or MARK DURKIN of the SDLP or DAVID TRIMBLE or the late DAVID IRVINE of the Unionist side. All of these had played significant roles in the Peace Process, some of them more significant than the final act played by Bartholomew. Nor was there any mention of Sinn Féin's GERARD ADAMS, MARTIN MCGUINNESS or the REV IAN PAISLEY. Even his most ardent admirers believed that Bartholomew had overscored by taking too much credit to himself.

IF THIS WAS A MISTAKE, it was followed immediately by an own goal by his backroom team who launched a piece of propaganda for TV featuring BLAIR, CLINTON and GEORGE MITCHELL singing the praises of Bartholomew in what all of them knew was an election advertisement. This was only a month after Angela Merkel had sent a letter to Enda Kenny hoping for his success. Enda read out the letter at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. But Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming had expressed his fury with Ms Merkel for interfering in the elections of a 'sovereign country'. "The Irish people have a very deep rooted sense of not being told what to do by foreign powers. I hope that if Enda Kenny has any understanding of the Irish people, he will ask her to withdraw that letter." Mr Fleming did not protest about his own leader using foreign powers in his advertisement

Apart from Bartholomew turning to foreign powers for his support, there is still an enormous anger at Anthony Blair for the invasion of Iraq and against William Clinton for the years of sanctions against Iraq over which he presided and which caused the deaths of a half a million children there.

THERE WERE TWO DEBATES during the course of the third week. In the first, PATRICK RABBITTE (Labour), MICHAEL McDOWELL (PDs), GERARD ADAMS (Sinn Féin) and TREVOR SARGENT (Greens) had a lively debate. My own scoring afterwards was Rabbitte 7, McDowell 6, Sargent 6, Adams 5. The marking comprises marks for both substance and shadow.

A PUBLIC SQUABBLE on TV between Green Party President JOHN GORMLEY and PD leader TANAISTE MICHAEL MCDOWELL as the latter unveiled a new poster on his favourite lamp post caught the imagination of the public and of journalists and was quickly dubbed the "Wrangle in the Triangle"

THE LEADERS debate between BARTOLOMEW AHERN and ENDA KENNY was less lively. National Television RTE's MIRIAM O'CALLAGHAN hosted it in such a way that the Taoiseach had much more talking time than Enda Kenny had. My marking: Ahern 5, Kenny 5 (making allowance for the unfair hosting by O'Callaghan/ Not making allowance for the unfairness, I would have scored Ahern 5.5, Kenny 4.5.
(After the election, it transpired that O'Callaghan had a brother running as a Fianna Fáil candidate).

The nurses were partially appeased and cancelled a planned escalation of their industrial action.

ON FRIDAY NIGHT'S LATE LATE SHOW there was another glaringly biased offering by host PAT KENNY (definitely no relation of Enda's) who fielded a two-to-one team of Owen Harris and John Waters (FOR Fianna Fáil) versus the lone Eamon Dunphy (AGAINST Fianna Fáil). Harris indulged himself in a high-pitched rant against imagined plotters who had invisible knives out for Bartholomew; and delivered an "eloquent Dempsey" panageric of the man who was above all reproach, "a man from a working class background, from the north city area", firing carefully prepared epithets of scorn and derision at a few notable journalists who had not fallen in adoration of Bartholomew over the years. Waters, fresh from his failure as a composer at the Eurovision song contest, prophesied that voters would slink in and vote for Bartholomew anyway and confound the pundits. Dunphy, sandwiched between the two, had to be content with a few counter punches: "I'm also a man from a working class background and from the north city area, but that doesn't mean I should be Taoiseach".

THE WEEK CONCLUDED with a poll (taken on Friday and Saturday) showing a remarkable upsurge in support for the Government main party. The bias of two TV programmes appeared to have taken their toll.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Elections Ireland 2007 - Second week

AS THE DISTRACTION OF THE TAOISEACH'S MONEY was dragged through th second week by the media the question of Cui Bono (To whom the benefit?) was on my mind. Fianna Fáil had just suffered an unexpected slump in the polls. Last time when there was a similar rumour going around about a difficulty of the Taoiseach's with regard to finance, his ratings went up 7% in the polls. Fianna Fáil efforts were now made to pin the leak on the Fine Gael party, but the possibility was always there that some of their own friends had leaked the information themselves. There was much protestation about "smearing" a decent man. Still, in the next poll, their ratings did not improve so much - just 2 per cent which heralded a dead heat.

But then PD leader, Tanaiste MICHAEL MCDOWELL, surprised everyone by saying that, last Autumn, Bartholomew had given him a radically different account of his finances from the one he had given during the campaign. The PD leader gave everyone to believe that he would resign from Government, but then said he definitely would not, and finally demanded a full statement to clear up the matter from Bartholomew which the latter promised for Friday 11 May.

DURING THE SECOND WEEK, Bartholomew's luck again re-surfaced as he had to fly with the same PD leader McDowell to Belfast for the accolade of the opening of the new Assembly into which he had put a lot of work throughout his term and Michael's position was softer after they came back to Dublin. Bartholomew was given extra time to make his statement and he was strutting the streets with chest much farther out than had been the case during the first week.

This was the week when THE NURSES DISPUTE took over from all others as the issue of importance. In an act of defiance, the Health and Safety Authority, backed by the (PD) Minister for Health MARY HARNEY and her Government, threatened to dock 13% of existing pay because of the dispute. In the USA where Mike Quill fought (and lost) for workers' rights, this kind of action might have won applause but in the country of Jim Larkin it appeared to be an unnecessary, aggressive, arrogant and maybe suicidal action. It was aggravated later in the week when the Nurses invited all party leaders to a Conference and they were treated to a lecture from the glum Ms Harney and a finger-wagging barrister Brian Lenihan of Fianna Fáil. The leader of the Opposition ENDA KENNY suggested an outsider should, even before the election, be invited to examine the issues - a suggestion derided by Bartholomew in a long sentence but adapted before the end of the same sentence in a waffled format. At week end the now angry nurses promised to escalate their strike, while promising to deal with all emergencies.

THE TAOISEACH made his promised (5000 word) statement in the Sunday Independent on 13 May. In it he claimed that allegations made by Tom Gilmartin against him about monies received were false, (this allegation is still to be determined by a Tribunal), that the strange manner in which he bought a house (the matter in the leak) was due to his marital break-up. It was Mr Wall's house, he said, bought in March 1995, but Bartholomew had, before this, accepted about £28,000 in cash from Mr Wall in his office to refurbish/furnish it and pay Mr Wall's stamp duty (Dec 1994) as he and Mr Wall had an arrangement that he would rent it from Mr Wall with an option to purchase it later. Bartholomew rented the house as agreed ("from the summer of 1995"). Mr Wall also willed him the house (6 June 1996) but Bartholomew did not know of this at the time. He, in fact, purchased the house in 1997. He had done no wrong, he said.

TANAISTE MCDOWELL, whose party had been elected largely to be the watchdog of the public on their larger partners in Government, said that he was happy now with the Taoiseach's explanation.. At week's end, both parties were down in the polls.

ENDA KENNY, leader of FINE GAEL, had steadfastly avoided getting involved in this affair in spite of Government taunts that his party must have been responsible for the leaks from the Tribunal that gave cause to the controversy. Instead he dealt with his own "contract for a better Ireland", putting his position on the line if he did not deliver. In his rapid tour of the constituencies he was jaunty, confident, touchy-feely, buoyant, jovial, and unexpectedly charismatic. The cross-country whistle-stop tour with impromptu speeches compensated for the high profile of his antagonist BARTHOLOMEW who was joining REV IAN PAISLEY at the site of the Battle of the Boyne on Friday 11 May.

MINISTER BRIAN COWEN, at the very start of the campaign, had chosen to say that he and his colleagues would roast the Opposition on a slow barbecue throughout the election campaign. This Minister, an able speaker when he controls himself, lost marks for the Government by roaring at opponents in radio and TV debates, "You're wrong, you're wrong, you don't know what you're talking about", by conducting his part of the debate as if he were an inquisitor "Answer the question, answer the question, you won't answer my question" and denying his opponent the right to reply by loud interruptions as soon as his opponent had uttered the first few words in reply. As the Government lost its way, LABOUR LEADER, Patrick Rabbitte, met Minister Cowen in a TV dialogue. Rabbitte showed his teeth in his opening statement "The Minister's barbecue has gone out" and the rest of his witty statement was half drowned by the the furious interruptions of the roaring Minister.

At the end of the second week, the position for the Opposition was almost too rosy. The danger for them was that they had peaked too soon. Mistakes could now be made by any candidate or party. Bartholomew's posters were being taken down in droves, presumably by party planners, as if his grinning face might now be a liability. But Fianna Fáil were expected to fight back. The PDs continued to campaign as if they were winners. In an amazing faux pas the leader of the GREEN PARTY, TREVOR SARGENT declared that the Greens might not now be able to consider a pact with Fianna Fáil after the elections. Green Party voters would be expected rather to get Fianna Fáil out of office than help them back in. The slip was quickly relayed on TV as if Sargent had been intending to go in with Fianna Fáil until he realized that the polls were indicating Fianna Fáil might not have the numbers. The gaffe would definitely raise the hackles of many supporters and could cause unwanted dissension among the members of the Parliamentary party.

As with the Greens, there was an uncertainty surrounding the LABOUR PARTY and SINN FÉIN. Both, while castigating the present Government, have adopted a position that leaves them (almost) free to take up any option after the results of the election become known. In a previous election, when a weary electorate decided for a change of Government, believing that a combination of Fine Gael and Labour were the preferred option, Labour got an unprecedented 33 seats in the Dáil. Labour leader DICK SPRING, went to Fine Gael leader John Bruton and demanded a share in the top office - a "rotating Taoiseach" position (he and Bruton to share the office of Taoiseach every six months). When this was rejected, he did a volte face and brought Fianna Fáil back into Government. For this betrayal, the electorate never forgave the Labour Party.

So, the election looks more open than ever. At this stage, a worried electorate face the possibility of any one of the following combinations for the future Government:
Fine Gael and Labour alone?
Fianna Fáil and the PDs alone? (outgoing)
Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens?
Fianna Fáil, PDs, the Greens, some Independents?
Fianna Fáil and Labour?
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin?

Thursday, 10 May 2007


It began early on Sunday 29 April 2007. A sudden call to journalists to scurry to Áras an Uachtaráin at an unearthly hour to hear the news that the Dáil had been dissolved. Taoiseach Bartholomew Ahern had hidden the news up to the last minute (8 a.m). Within an hour his party's posters were occupying the best positions on Dublin's lamp posts. Bartholomew's party, Fianna Fáil, had enjoyed five years of power in coalition with the minuscule Progressive Democrats (PDs). The latter had climbed every post in Ireland to convince the electorate that they were necessary to be there with Fianna Fáil to keep an eye on the antics of the old war horse, to be the moral guardians of good Government. They got their wish. Bartholomew, whom most people call Bertie, was re-elected Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Mary Harney of the PDs, erstwhile of Fianna Fáil herself, was made Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). For five years there was a cosy relationship between the partners in Government. Luckily for them the Celtic Tiger economy continued to growl. Luckily, too, peace came to Northern Ireland during their tenure. They themselves would say that there was no luck but sheer hard work involved on both of these issues. Even critics, however, would grant that Bartholomew's part in the Northern peace making process was significant and that he deserved whatever luck he had on that important part of his Government record.

DURING THOSE FIVE YEARS some significant events had taken place:

THE INVASION OF IRAQ: Ireland, under Bartholomew, had allowed US troops to use Shannon airport for the build-up and later the full scale invasion and occupationof Iraq. This accession to the will of George W Bush continues to this day.
At first Bartholomew and his government denied that any troops were passing through Shannon but when pictures appeared on television to prove otherwise, they reverted to defending their position by saying that this had always happened without any complaints.
Before George W Bush invaded Iraq, 130,000 marched in Dublin and tens of thousands in other Irish cities to protest against the threatened invasion.
Ignoring this, Bartholomew continued to parrot the US line about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction while promising to do nothing out of line with the United Nations.
When the invasion happened, Ireland was in the peculiar position of participating in an "illegal" war, not ratified by the United Nations and without the consent of the Dáil. Ireland's Constitution states that Ireland cannot participate in a war without the consent of the Dáil.
The invasion happened on 19 March 2003, so, on the following day, 20 March, the Dáil was recalled to make legal the unthinkable. Bartholomew's motion contained the lines that

"Dáil Éireann recalls the long-standing arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft and supports the decision of the Government to maintain those arrangements"

His motion also contained the lines that

"Dáil Éireann

- condemns the continued refusal of the Government of Iraq over a period of 12 years to comply with its obligation to disarm as imposed by numerous resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, most recently in Resolution 1441;

- endorses the decision of the Government that Ireland will not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq."

The motion was passed with the help of the Fianna Fáil and PD deputies. It was a typical Ahern waffle on a position. To the US he gave complete freedom to prosecute the war by using Irish air space and an Irish civilian airport; to Irish protestors he gave a contradictory guarantee that Ireland was not participating in the war while to US he also gave the nod that he agreed with their (later proven false) belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

There was outrage in Ireland. Several protestors on different occasions entered Shannon airport in protest and a US plane was damaged on two separate occasions in an effort to prevent it from bombing Iraq. After prolonged and scandal-ridden trials, five protestors, the Pitstop Ploughshares, were found not guilty of the offence because they were deemed to have due cause to damage the plane. Another protestor, Mary Kelly, is presently appealing her own conviction after a series of farcical trials in Clare where she was denied the very defence that later proved crucial to the dismissal of the State's case against the Pitstop Five.

THE NICE TREATY came up for ratification in a Government referendum. If passed it would have copper-fastened once again Ireland's support for a militarized Europe. The referendum was defeated. However, the Government decided that the electorate were not sufficiently informed about Nice and re-ran the referendum which was passed by a whisker second time around.

NATO had bombed the Balkans when Ireland, under Bartholomew, joined NATO, through the back door of the so-called Partnership for Peace (PfP). This action was taken without a referendum in spite of a promise before the election that he would not put Ireland into the PfP without first having a referendum

THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT was altered by Bartholomew's Government just after the invasion of Iraq had begun. Vital information about matters relevant to public scrutiny would no longer be accessible and enquirers would now have to pay heftily for each item of information.

THE SELL-OUT OF NATIONAL GAS AND OIL RIGHTS to a Shell/Statoil/Marathon consortium was begun and completed by a Fianna Fáil minister and work on erecting a pipeline went ahead, without Government permission, in Rossport, Co Mayo. Five locals who objected to the erection of the pipeline and engaged in non-violent action against it were jailed for contempt of court and spent 94 days in Cloverhill prison in 2005. A campaign against both the erection of the pipeline if the gas is processed on land and against the whole sell out of national rights is still alive and vibrant. Garda brutality against non-violent protestors has been featured for all to see on national TV news and there are several cases pending in the courts and complaints lodged with the Garda ombudsman relating to various Garda activities at the site of protest.

THE GARDA FORCE has come in for scrutiny on other fronts. Last month FRANK SHORT, a completely innocent man, was awarded over 4,623,000 euro for an appalling "miscarriage of justice" in which he was framed by Gardaí who perjured him into prison where he spent 23 months. Other Garda cases are before one of Ireland's interminable tribunals.

THE BROWN ENVELOPE TRADITION has been uncovered in some of those Tribunals. The brown envelope has come to signify corrupt payments to politicians for favours mentioned or unmentioned. Several senior politicians have been implicated, some are still to give evidence before a Tribunal.

FOR THE PAST WEEK these have not been the "issues" of the election however. THE ISSUES of the election are being defined daily by Government spin doctors and their opposition equivalents. These were quickly named as Health, Crime, the Economy, Stamp duty payable as a Government tax, Education, Traffic congestion, local water pollution, and others.
All of these are real issues and might be what one would expect in a Tiger economy. The hospitals have been overcrowded, nurses are presently on an ever escalating strike, crime continues to soar. There is a crippling stamp duty payable to Government by second hand house buyers and given the outrageous house prices at present obtaining, (average house price fell in March to 309,000 euro!) a young house buyer pays an average stamp duty tax of 15,000 euro.
Schools have been complaining of overcrowded classrooms for many years and lack of investment in education. Bullying, according to the latest surveys, is rampant in Irish schools and still unresolved.Successive Governments have failed to solve the traffic problem with some one mile journeys taking an hour or more by private car, while public transport remains inadequate to lure car owners away even from that affliction. Recently. in Galway, there has been a water crisis where the supply had been polluted and only bottled water from the shops or supermarkets was drinkable. Government and Opposition spar as to whether the proposed Opposition "Rainbow Coalition" would keep the economy in good shape or not.

THE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY is FINE GAEL, whose leader is Enda Kenny They have an election pact with LABOUR and fight the election more or less from the same platform. Other parties that might or might not join in a RAINBOW COALITION are the GREEN PARTY and SINN FÉIN. A poll just before the announcement of the election showed an increase in the Rainbow position and a decline for Fianna Fáil and the PDs. Still, the election that had been heralded for long had to be called as the Government's time was up.

THE START OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND ITS FIRST WEEK WAS OVERSHADOWED by a leaked report that the Taoiseach had not quite explained receipt of certain money in his office in Drumcondra some years ago. Media attention was immediately focussed on this issue and that interest has persisted throughout the first week. (to be continued....