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....