6 July 2000 Edition
Coalition banger blunders on
Real opposition ``rising in the country'' - Ó Caoláin
Having scraped through last week's confidence vote in the Dáil, the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government is now more than ever like a car with no brakes. Mary Harney has made such a mess of things that, barring Bertie being revealed as the Drumcondra axe murderer, she will not withdraw from government to face electoral annihilation. Bertie must continue in government as long as possible, hoping to put time and distance between the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal and the general election, which has to be held in June 2002 at the latest. Neither party is willing or able to stop the car. It careers on with its occupants desperately hoping for a soft landing.
Mary Harney has made such a mess of things that, barring Bertie being revealed as the Drumcondra axe murderer, she will not withdraw from government to face electoral annihilation
Sadly for the coalition, there are no nice bales of hay piled up at the end of the road. Potholes, precipices and the odd-booby trap are what awaits them in the months ahead.
On the very eve of the Dáil confidence vote, Bertie Ahern had to appear at the Moriarty Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians at Dublin Castle. His testimony and that of other Fianna Fáil members has left crucial question marks over the co-operation of their party with Moriarty. When this is reflected in the final report, it will bode ill for Bertie - and that's apart altogether from whatever other nasty things are likely to emerge from the Moriarty and Flood tribunals.
The deeply flawed approach of Deputy Bruton to the peace process, which he demonstrates almost on a weekly basis in this Chamber, means that his would be a most undesirable nomination for the position of Taoiseach
The Hugh O'Flaherty nomination debacle is not over, nor will it be quickly forgotten by the electorate. In yet another gaffe, this time not widely reported, Mary Harney on RTÉ radio on 28 June denied she had said a couple of weeks ago that the O'Flaherty affair would be forgotten in three months. But when the tape was replayed, her words were clear: ``We must move on, I will predict three or four months from now will anybody remember this?'' Harney has clearly lost her nerve and is ever more susceptible to the type of panic politics which led to her statement that Haughey should be jailed and the consequent indefinite postponement of his trial. While it is still possible that this will be overturned by the Supreme Court, the memory of Harney's ineptitude will not fade.
Harney's PDs are a media-driven party with no real organisation. They are a collection of ambitious TDs who for most of their careers have been given a free ride by the media. But the oxygen of publicity is useless to a political corpse.
The PDs could not field even one candidate in last year's EU elections. Despite their woeful performance at the last general election, they got into government and many in the media indulged in the fiction that the PDs were the principled partners, the conscience of the coalition who would keep Fianna Fáil on the straight and narrow. But the PDs have long since lost the critical mass to act independently. Like the unlamented Democratic Left, they are four TDs without a party. Their careers and pensions are paramount now.
Those TDs who were elected as Independents but who have sold their votes to the government - Blaney, Fox, Gildea and Healy-Rae - are still very much on board but they cannot be taken for granted. They voted for Bertie last week, giving him his four-vote victory, but pre-election nerves could cause any or all of them to bolt and there were ominous noises from Mildred Fox this week about an abortion referendum.
One aspect of the no confidence debate received little notice and that was Brian Cowen's attack on John Bruton. While Bertie and other ministers made plenty of use of the peace process to boost their case, Cowen's assault on Bruton was, by all appearances, a genuine statement of bald facts. The day before, Bruton had reshuffled his Front Bench and, incredibly, gave the `Northern Ireland' portfolio to the avowedly anti-republican Dublin South West TD Brian Hayes. This portfolio was hitherto held by the Fine Gael leader himself but Bruton said it did not require his attention ``as much as it might in the past''. Cowen characteristically did not mince words:
``[John Bruton] continues with the naïve assumption that, on the basis that this government has, with others, successfully re-established the institutions in a very complex negotiation, the job is now done rather than that it is only starting. That says much about Deputy's Bruton's understanding of Irish affairs, North and South. It also indicates a limited vision as to the potential and benefit to be derived from full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It also reminds me that throughout his tenure as Taoiseach, Deputy Bruton supported and endorsed and was in full agreement with the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when, in his Washington III speech, he spoke about the need for prior decommissioning in order to bring about a successful conclusion to the peace process. That fundamental political misjudgment remains an indictment on Deputy Bruton's capacity at any time in the future to be given the responsibility that being Taoiseach involves in terms of Northern Ireland affairs.''
Cowen slammed Bruton's ``misunderstanding that the peace process is not about obtaining ultimate surrender, covert or overt, but about conflict resolution based on equality, putting a line under the past...''
In his contribution, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin commended the role of the government in the peace process. ``Notwithstanding my disappointments and continuing concerns, the focused approach of the Taoiseach and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs have been important in achieving progress'' he said.
However, he pointed out that the peace process is ``bigger than any one leader or any one party and cannot depend on the survival of any single administration in this state''. He said he ``could not vote confidence in this government solely on the basis of the peace process''.
Ó Caoláin said he had been ``disappointed again and again'' by the government's approach on a range of issues:
``The inequalities in health, education, the workplace and the desperation of tens of thousands of our people to put a roof over their heads are glaring, and the gap between those with excess wealth and those without the basic necessities has grown wider. At the same time, the ordinary supporters of the two largest parties, but in particular those of Fianna Fáil, have been sickened by the betrayal of their trust which they have seen exposed almost every day. Those who posed as the party of the people were and are, in reality, the party in the pocket of the privileged.''
Ó Caoláin was critical of the government parties he also expressed no confidence in Fine Gael and Labour:
``There is a real Opposition in this Dáil, but it is not on the Fine Gael or Labour benches. Those parties share in the responsibility for the long-term failure of the political establishment in this state to cherish all the children of the nation equally. I have no confidence in them either. The deeply flawed approach of Deputy Bruton to the peace process, which he demonstrates almost on a weekly basis in this Chamber, means that his would be a most undesirable nomination for the position of Taoiseach. As for social and economic policies, the difference between his party and the Taoiseach's is wafer thin. On key issues they are at one, and on a night of shame they stood together here last October to bring this State into NATO's Partnership for Peace in clear violation of the Taoiseach's promise to the electorate.
``The real opposition is rising in the country. The development of Sinn Féin on both sides of the Border is part of that movement. So also is the growth in support for principled independent candidates, such as Deputy Healy, and for the smaller parties. I look forward to a general election when the change in the political landscape which we have seen as a result of the peace process will continue and when we can shape a new political dispensation throughout this island. The Irish people deserve and demand no less.''