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.