Will Fianna Fáil change leader?

Eoin O’Malley (UPDATED 17 January, 2011)

The fact that Cowen has pushed for a vote of confidence in his leadership would seem to indicate that he is secure that he has the numbers to win it. He has the advantage of having spent the previous three days canvassing support openly, whereas Micheál Martin was unable or unwilling to show his hand and campaign openly. Cowen also set the timing for any challenge, limiting the time Martin will be able to campaign. His refusal to accept Martin’s resignation makes him appear to be magnanimous. Cowen also has the advantage that the ultimate outcome of choosing to oust him is not clear. It’s not a clear choice of Martin taking over, as there will certainly be a leadership contest if Cowen were to go.  This uncertainty might make the option of sticking with Cowen more attractive. Much might depend on whether the other potential challengers are indicating to their supporters to vote for Cowen or a change.

This would seem to suggest that Cowen is more secure.

However having the vote by secret ballot is a risky move. Can Cowen assume that people who assured him of their support will not defect in the comfort of anonymity? It’s very difficult to criticise someone to their face.

Also Cowen doesn’t have any way of forcing loyalty. Usually incumbent Taoisigh (or even like Enda Kenny would-be Taoisigh) can offer preferment in the future. Everyone knows that Cowen will only be Taoiseach for a few more months, and will step down after the election – he’s depending on genuine loyalty.

In addition all of these people are correctly very nervous for their seats. And nervousness can lead to desperation. Changing a leader might not help, but it could hardly do much harm.

ORIGINAL POST

Fianna Fáil looks closer to changing leader than at any time in the last two years since Brian Cowen’s leadership came under serious scrutiny. It would seem odd that they might do it at this stage when the party’s TDs know there is an election. The conventional wisdom holds that you can’t change leader so close to an election, especially when it would take about a week to remove him and another week to replace him. This would give the new leader little time between becoming leader and facing an official election campaign (the unofficial one is already under way).

Would it help Fianna Fáil to change leader? Political science suggests that leaders don’t really matter – there is very little evidence for their impact. This probably says more about the inadequacies of political science methods than it does about leaders. There does seem to be some evidence that Enda Kenny’s unpopularity in Dublin and other urban centres limits his party’s growth there. But it could be that young people in urban centres are more left wing and would never vote for Fine Gael, even if a young Dublin-based TD were leader.  But assuming leaders do matter, could a new leader help?

One problem with a change is that it would create a difficult situation in the Dáil as the new leader would not be elected as Taoiseach – the Greens and the independents have already indicated that. Some see this as necessitating an immediate general election, which would presumably prevent the Finance Bill and most other legislation (22 Bills in total) the government had hoped to pass before the Dáil was dissolved from being passed.

But necessity is the mother of invention, so there is no reason why the government need fall if a new leader were elected. The new leader could concentrate on rebuilding the party in the month or so before a formal campaign, getting new policies in place and sorting out the candidate strategy and organisation. Fianna Fáil has had a problem that the cabinet has been so preoccupied with government that it has forgotten about the needs of its party.

There is a precedent for this. Richard Mulcahy was leader of Fine Gael when John A. Costello was Fine Gael Taoiseach in the post war inter-party governments. It is reasonably common in other countries that there is a party leader in government, a party leader in parliament and a leader of the party organisation.

All this assumes that Fianna Fáil is unpopular because Brian Cowen is unpopular. Brian Cowen had a brief but intense honeymoon. His recent unpopularity is surely related more to the direction the economy has taken than anything else. Perhaps even Bertie Ahern would have slumped in the polls?

But if Fianna Fáil were to choose someone, who should it choose? All serious contenders are just as associated with the policies that makes Fianna Fáil so unpopular. Imagine the Fine Gael posters quoting Brian Lenihan were he to become leader (‘cheapest bank bailout in the world’ etc., though I assume FF has collected a series of quotes from Richard Bruton and others about their lack of confidence in Enda Kenny). Micheál Martin has been in government for the last thirteen and a half years and so is constitutionally responsible for all those decisions. Perhaps Mary Hanafin could claim more distance, but she too has been in government since 2000 and sat at cabinet since 2002. All are to a greater or lesser extent ‘tainted’.

A leadership contest now would presumably rule out the self-styled ‘Ógra-generation’. This group would be able to distance the party from the government, but most of them are unknown and none have been tested in any serious way. It’s difficult to see how one could take over even after the election.

For a contest to take place signatures are needed from a quarter of sitting Fianna Fáil TDs. It might be easier to secure those signatures now that we’re in the dying days of the government, but would anyone really want to take the job now, and be associated with the impending electoral disaster? Some of the potential leaders might want to leave Cowen in place to maintain the possible myth that it’s all his fault and allow the new leader take over with a clean slate.

Given these points, it seems unlikely that a leadership change will happen.

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44 thoughts on “Will Fianna Fáil change leader?

  1. The party should elect a new leader immediately. They should elect someone who is seen as having been entirely distant from and even opposed to the present government regime –
    That says John McGuinness TD of Kilkenny.

  2. You may well be right. Cowen is in of the safest seats in the country and is one of the few members of the Cabinet who could take time off in a campaign to travel the country.

    I am also unsure that Cowen would be able to remain as Taoiseach and not as leader despite precedent. It would be a very unstable position could precipitate an almost immediate general election.

    On the other side as Eoin points the Ogra generation cannot challenge at the moment. But the party could decide to enter a prolonged period of reflection after a general election in choosing a leader. I think this was advocated recently by Noel Whelan. This would be worrying for the older generation of politicians you mention who many well lose out under this process. If Martin, Hanafin et al would like to be leader then they may feel that they need to act over the coming days.

    In terms of leaders mattering the INES evidence as Michael Marsh has noted implies that a popular leader can be worth about 3% to 5% at the polls.

  3. McGuinness came up with Ogra.
    He is very businesslike. He is dispassionate.
    But more important the people all over the country recognise him as a genuine voice of discontent totally opposed on policy grounds over the past several years to Cowan, Coughlan & Co.
    As important the media recognises him for this, there could be a seachange in the media attitude to a McGuinness-led Fianna Fail.
    John McGuinness would challenge the bankers , he would strip the bondholders, senior and subordinate , he never goes in for such distinctions as a successful and seasoned businessman himself.

    None of the old gang in the cabinet, Micheal Martin included, would have any effect on the party’s prospects at all.

    (That said, maybe Batt O’Keeffe , he comes across as an honest man) .

  4. Michael, John McGuiness was so opposed to the government’s policy direction that he voted against it on how many occasions? This joke of public representatives who are voted into the Oireachtas in order to express their views via votes but who then say one thing outside the chamber (in sometimes even inside in the case of the likes of Mary O’Rourke) while expressing themselves differently when it comes to casting their vote exceeds the hypocrisy of the public who mouth their opposition to the government failing to act in the wider interest in the pub but vote for government TDs ‘cos she’s a decent sort and helped us get a bed for the grandmother’. If she acted in the wider interest there would be a bed for everyone that needed it but that might cost them money so better we have a shortage of beds and that TDs help decide who should get on based on whether they are one of their own or not.

  5. The idea of John McGuinness leading Fianna Fail is fanciful in the extreme. He might be businesslike (whatever that means), but dispassionate? Hardly. This is the man who basically got the hump when he wasn’t promoted to cabinet and he certainly doesn’t strike me as an obvious leader of Fianna Fail. There is no chance whatsover that McGuinness could simply strip the senior and subordinate bondholders; the IMF are running our finances just now and they are not going to allow this to happen under John McGuineess or anyone else. I think that the media to be frank detect a certain waffle like quality in McGuinness than anything else.

    I tend to think that Martin, Lenihan and Hanafin are guilty by association with Cowen and as Fionnan Sheehan made clear in today’s Independent, Fianna Fail’s problems go well beyond Cowen. I just don’t think it plausible that a new leader can somehow miraculously change FF’s fortunes this close to an election. It seems to me that a lot of Fianna Failers are waiting for the Cowen of Election 07 to reappear and barnstorm the electorate in 2011 as well but that also has no credibility as the electorate have copped on to the fact that Cowen governing is much different to Cowen electioneering.

    I am intrigued by Eoin’s suggestion that a new leader could develop some new policies. And what such policies could they be and given the difference between the FF manifesto of 2007 and what subsequently took place in government why would any serious commentator give them any credence!

  6. It always amazes me how irish people can stil manage to have a discussion over something that is clearly a no-brainer. Cowen has failed abysmally in numerous areas, he was a bully boy in the so called good times, oft lauded for his ability to savage any who dared question the ways of fianna fail…but now in the bad times, that he helped create, he is a pathetic wounded dog, only ever showing signs of life when he is prodded, and even then it is just to snarl or bite.

    This latest wound in his side..(and these are the facts as i now see them, when u cut away all the spin, bluster and awh shucks sure it was only a bit of golf nonsense)…Our Taoiseach played golf with the chairman of anglo irish bank and another anglo director..then later all 3 joined yet another anglo director and a central bank director for dinner and drinks, roughly 7 to 9 hours of guy time….and 2 months later the same Taoiseach signs off on a blanket guarantee of all irish banks deposits and debts, anglo included…

    ..and we are supposed to believe that he was in no way influenced…that seanie and the boys never said “ah yeah brian the bank is grand, its just this sub prime craic in america, it’ll blow over, anyway is it your round or mine??”..lets just say it and be done with it, we’re talking about 30-40 billion euros of debt on our shoulders because of what happened back then, but still we are expected to suspend disbelief and take whatever we are being fed.

    People are tip toeing around it as far as i can see, but the fact that he had to have the details of this meeting dragged out of him shows how compromised he is, if we were a proper country, one that embraces standards and accountability, he would have stepped down long ago. See how the head of the water board in northern ireland stepped down, in Japan they bring bloody swords into it! Ha, if you handed a failed irish politician a sword he’d probably hang it on his mantle piece.
    It’s the major problem in Ireland, we reward and forgive mediocrity and at the same time we sneer and distrust true achievement and ability… Hence, we are where we are.

  7. Furthermore, the media coverage (this blog included) seems to be wholly fixated on the consequences of what Cowen did….rather than actually concentrating on the transgressions themselves..everyone with a public voice should be stating categorically that this is not acceptable, that the man is not fit to be leader of the country and should be removed immediately. I cannot see any other position as acceptable but would welcome any opinions to the contrary as i am at a loss now to see how this turn of events is still being seen as almost acceptable.

    • Cowen should go because he was and is incompetent. He was far too easily bought but the man who keeps accusing him of economic treason the one who has changed parties as often as the rest of us change cars, has also committed economic treason with regard to the Croke Park agreement and his willingness to go along with it. Both of them have been bought, Cowen by the golden cirlce. Gilmore by his Unions.

    • Look at the about page – “The purpose of the forum is to provide up-to-date analysis of contemporary political events”
      We talk about other stuff. In any case the idea of having a separate Taoiseach and party leader is a ‘reform’.

      • @Eoin O’Malley,

        I must admit I initially shared Donal’s view, but the now admitted cosiness of the leader of the government with the chairman of the bank that has done most to bring Ireland to its knees economically and damaged its reputation – and which is prompting this FF leadership issue – has serious implications for the nature of political governance. I’m not alleging any wrong-doing, but this stinks. But, among all the proposals for reform being advanced, are there some that would address it?

        Of interest also is the divergence between FG and Labour on Dail tactics to take advantage of this internal FF issue. It doesn’t augur well for coherent and cohesive governance after the election.

  8. A new leader is a good idea, as long as he has many cozy relationships, especially to bankers. That’s what Ireland is all about,isn’t it?

  9. The issue of who is Fianna Fáil leader and why the party is like a rabbit stuck in the headlights, cannot be considered in exclusion to the mentality of the sort of person who joins or votes for Fianna Fáil.

    FF is not like any of the other parties, past or present, who are driven by policy. Instead it was built on the cult of Dev, the man whose ego caused a civil war, and each leader since then continued with the concept of loyalty to the leader above all else, no matter how unsuitable that leader is – we saw it with CJH, with Reynolds, with Ahern and now with Cowen.

    In 1979 FF was given a choice, to go for the ethos of Mr Haughey & Mr Lenihan Snr or Mr Colley & Mr Hillery and it chose Haughey & Lenihan and now it is reaping what it sowed.

    The Cowen issue has less to do with Cowen than with those who are involved with FF going through the actual stages of grief and it seems most of them are still in the denial stage.

    Most of them simply refuse to accept their responsibility for putting the country in the mess it is now in and a lot of them are angry that they were stupid enough to have ended up in office when it all fell apart and when the IMF had to come in. Normally FF walks away from its mess but now find they are in the firing line and they don’t like it one bit.

    The game is up and its understandable FF wants to cling onto power as long as it can because it’s facing something it has never had to face up to before – and that’s being out of office for a very long time and if it ever gets back into office, it will be a completely different party and Ireland will be a very different country.

    Cowen & Co are terrified of calling the election they know is going to mark the end of the party they all love – more than their own country it seems – so on a human level it’s understandable.

    It makes no difference who leads FF, none of them are suitable for office and each one of them are tainted by what they’ve done. The moment anyone else takes over their own track record will be dragged up.

    Reform wise, the game is up for FF, whether it clings on to next week or April, the fact is the political map of Ireland will never be the same again and that alone is a step in the right direction.

    The first step is the hardest and for FF it will be the most painful it has ever taken and those in FF deserve everything they have coming to them.

    • Thank you for these comments. My father, a Collins Flying Squad leader refused to support Devalera’s rebellion. As a result he was targeted for death. Some members of his former flying squad, who joined Devalera, and disgusted at this turn of events, warned him and he left Ireland. Years later Develera’s government was petty enough to deny him the modest pension he should have gotten for his service to Ireland, while others, who claimed to fight but never did, got pensions. They were good FF boyos.

      • There will be no reform while FF remains in power or in existence. Its leadership is now irrelevant. We are still talking of 1916, 1922 etc we must move on. The people are paralysed by shock at what has happened to our country. They bought into the politics of FF and its fairy stories and like most victims fell they are somewhat to blame. FG and Labour have also shown little by way of real change.
        Yes we need a new vision, a new movement, a new way of doing business. This site and others have talked about it, have talked about it and talked about it but all the great ideas will not come into being unless we have a New Party or until FG and Labour state clearly that they will bring about change in three years and then go to the Country to allow us the citizens to confirm that they have.
        But we all know this will not happen. Someone will gain power in the next few months and it will be business as usual. This economic crisis will pass and so will the chance to change the way we govern our country. We will lose this opportunity, it will be lost for generations to come.
        Forget about who the present leadership are, they are irrelevant to when we want to go. We need totally new real leaders. There must be someone.

  10. This is a perfectly valid topic for ‘Politicalreform’ to consider. For political scientists used to working in a more or less ‘neutral’ climate it is instructive to be reminded that – judging by a good number of the posts recorded in response to Eoin’s piece – Civil War politics is alive and well. I have had multiple reminders of this in recent weeks in encounters with senior Fine Gael people.

    The question of who leads Fianna Fail remains an important one, not least for FF TDs looking down the barrel of electoral oblivion. It is important also because whoever is chosen to lead the party may play a significant role as the main opposition leader in the next parliament. But the issue engages us perhaps more immediately because of the political theatre it generates and because it may have a definite influence on the election campaign.

    I acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to make a judgment about whether and how a new leader might affect Fianna Fail’s position in the opinion polls and performance in the General Election. However, we might consider the following by way of comparison. In the UK general election held on 6 May 2010 the Labour party lost power after a dismal campaign by Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister performed poorly in the televised leaders debates and then suffered his own unique form of meltdown through the now notorious encounter with Labour-supporting pensioner Gillian Duffy. Given that Brown was terribly unpopular (after a similar career trajectory to Brian Cowen post 1997) it seems reasonable to conclude that his deep unpopularity cost Labour a number of percentage points in the election; I would argue as much as 5 percentage points. Labour won 35.2 per cent of the vote and this translated to 355 seats. Allowing for the pecularities of the UK electoral system, and in particular, the often significant seat ‘bonus’ achieved by the largest party when it reaches around the 40 per cent mark, I think we can speculate quite reasonably that had Labour opted for a younger, more dyanmic and PR-effective leader, it might have gone close to the 40 per cent mark. This would have ensured that it was in a much stronger position after the election and – sans Brown – a more attractive coalition partner to the Liberal Democrats.

    I suspect that the parallels between Brown and Cowen run very deep. Both men achieved ministerial
    office in 1997; both were lauded in office as particularly capable finance ministers; both men succeeded long-serving party leaders at a very difficult time, and both men exhibited and continue to exhibit a complete inability to master modern communications instruments, particularly television and the internet(remember Gordon Brown’s infamous YouTube efforts, so mercilessly lampooned by British comedians).

    I suggest Brian Cowen represents an electoral liability of similar proportions to Gordon Brown to Labour in 2010. Without him Fianna Fail just might be able to secure 4 or 5 percentage points more. This might seem like a moot point, but it is clear that such a difference could translate into up to 20 seats. As a number of commentators have suggested FF seats may be lost at an accelerated rate once its support level reaches the sort of levels that a series of polls has suggested is possible – around 15 per cent. So FF TDs have a real and substantive interest in thinking about a new leader who just might be able to ‘rescue’ the vital extra percentage points that might secure their seats.

    Fianna Fail deputies should consider the presentation skills of the three leadership candidates and ask: how will the new leader perform in an election debate against Enda Kenny? Given that Kenny is almost as poor a communicator as Cowen, and that even Bertie Ahern made mincemeat of the Fine Gael leader in 2007, FF people might be tempted to disgard the communications issue. I am not saying the TV debate(s) will make a difference (there is no evidence at all from political science that they count for anything in a campaign), but in the context of an improved communications performance across the board and a leader able to effectively use different types of television appearances, those extra percentage points are crucially in play. In this respect Fianna Fail it seem to me, have only one possible leadership candidate, and that is Michael Martin. For anybody who needs convincing about his PR and communications abilities just examine the 2009 Lisbon Treaty campaign, and in particular the final Prime Time programme where he destroyed Declan Ganley. I tend to disagree slightly with Eoin here, and suggest that his tenure at Foreign Affairs offers him some protection against the charges of ‘economic treason’ or guilt by direct association with individuals and events central to the multiple crises of recent years. When voters single out ministers for blame it does seem to be Cowen and Lenihan that come up again and again.

    To some extent all of this is speculative and based on my own intuitive grasp of what is going on, rather than any theory or political science literature about election campaigns and leadership contests. Judged on his performance on Six One on Wednesday last Kenny is still completely out of his depth. He may well constitute just as much of an electoral handicap for Fine Gael in his inability to string a coherent sentence together. Much to ponder in the days ahead.

    • John, I was reading with interest until “Labour won 35.2 per cent of the vote and this translated to 355 seats. Allowing for the pecularities of the UK electoral system, and in particular, the often significant seat ‘bonus’ achieved by the largest party when it reaches around the 40 per cent mark”

      Labour got 29% of the vote and get 258 seats in 2010 not 35.2 and 355 seats. That was the result of the 2005 election which was contested with Tony Blair as leader. Given that you did notice that in the UK election system that 355 seats would have been a majority, I think I’d pass on discussion of your assertion that Brown’s leadership in the campaign alone cost them 5%, or the rest of your advice to FF. I shudder to consider who might these senior Fine Gael people you’ve encountered were.

      • Daniel,
        apologies. You are absolutely right. My figs were for 05 and not 10. I think the point about the Brown factor as a ‘toxic brand’ and a drag on the party vote holds. Though it is of course as I pointed out, a somewhat subjective one. I mentioned meeting FG people only to highlight my own surprise at the persistence of ‘civil war’ thinking. And I suspect thst thinking is more widespread on the front bench than is commonly assumed.

  11. @Anon,

    “We need totally new real leaders. There must be someone.”

    I sense your view is being echoed the length and breadth of the country. But we have to make bricks out of the straw we have – or will have after the next election. We have a system of governance by elected representatives in parliament with government elected by, and within, parliament. Therefore, apart from a scattering of independents and expected major changes in factional representation, the next Dail will be comprised of public representatives aligned with the existing factions.

    We need to draw a clear distinction between the process of policy formulation, the crafting and enactment of legislation and the execution of policy, on one side, and the content of the actual policies being formulated and executed and the legislation being enacted, on the other. In my view, the process is more important than the content. If the process is effective there is a greater probability that the content will reflect the public and national interest. And when the content proves detrimental to the public interest an effective process will allow eventual remedy.

    This is where much debate on political reform runs aground. Many of those who advance proposals for reform are also keen to advance a particular policy agenda that these reforms will facilitate. It may prove impossible, but we need the TDs in the next Dail to park their factional policy baggage for a while and focus on reforming the process.

    They will have an excellent opportunity to do so as much of the activity of government over the next year or two will involve implementing the terms of the EU/IMF deal. Why not focus on getting the process of governance right so that we can escape from these constraints as soon as possible and ensure we will never be ensnared again?

    • I agree, as I stated in a previous entry we now have a golden opportunity to take time out and implement the required changes. We know generally what is required and much of it has been outlined in these pages. You are correct, if the process right we have a good chance of making real change.
      But as we have seen over the years all the TD’s up to now, have promised much and delivered very little by way of reform of the system. The citizens have now woken up to the need for reform. The academics and analysts have developed the reforms that are required and it is great fun listing to the debates. But we must put in a process now that will ensure that a real reform process is implemented not just discussed for the next five years.
      The present Cowan affair just shows how easy it is to throw Irish people off track. A civil servant once advised me that in talking to a Minister or a TD you do not give them choices, you do not have six people at the meeting asking for six different things. You show a united front and ask for one thing. You then have some chance of getting it. I would suggest that the process be agreed on, six identifiable targets and that the Government come back to the people in three years to validate their progress. This will keep the pressure on them to produce.

  12. A pertinent question to ask regarding this matter, which would provide some worthwhile perspective on this issue, is how many other bankers/economists etc did Brian Cowen play golf and dine with during that period? say the 5 or 6 months before the guarantee? im gonna go out on a limb here and say none…

  13. Fianna Fáil are in serious trouble and the heave seems to mirror the overall state of the party at the moment. It is drifting towards a calamitous election and no one appears to have either the interest or inclination to do anything about it. Developments this week reflect the ambitions of senior party personnel to become leader rather than any real attempt to address the problems facing the party.

    There is no messiah sitting at the cabinet table – Martin, Lenihan, Hannafin, O’Cuiv- none of them are advancing any alternative vision of Fianna Fáil. In reality, they seem to be displaying an unappealing cowardice in refusing to address the party’s problems in public.

    The Ogra generation have made an appearance in the last month but it is hard to see them emerging as a serious force in the coming weeks. There has been no succession planning in Fianna Fáil in the last decade. The leadership of the party passed from Ahern to Cowen seamlessly but outside of that transfer, no preparation has been made to develop younger party personnel. Collins, Calleary, McGrath and Byrne have little experience and compare unfavourably with many of their generation in Labour or Fine Gael. It is hard to see any of them providing the kind of vision and energy that Fianna Fáil need.

    • Actually, the FF activities of the last while mirror nothing as much as the frankly deluded manner in which FG approached the 2002 election. The party was completely blind as to the reality they were being presented with by the polls and carried on as it was business as usual when in fact the changed economic environment in a time of plenty meant that the usual rules didn’t apply.

      It appears that only in the last week or so has it appeared that reality has dawned on them. Perhaps this is because with the starting of a countdown last November by the Greens to the calling of the election, some of their senior people like Batt O’Keeffe and their supporters have actually had to go out on the doors for the first time in earnest in many years and the reaction is far, far worse than they ever imagined it might be. With people who they knew well and had voted for them personally for years telling them bluntly that they would not do so this time out. They each thought as individuals that while the party might have lost support that they would personally be ok, the mentality that lead people to think that Alan Dukes or Nora Owen couldn’t possibly lose their seats or that DSE couldn’t possibly not elect a FG TD.

  14. Ireland needs to have a watchdog/ethics agency with investigative powers. With a complaint line open to citizens. And some staff drawn from abroad, such as Sweden, the USA and, yes, the UK.

  15. Having listened to Brian Cowen this afternoon, I believe that he has done a deal with one of his potential challengers. Brian will see the Finance Bill through the Dail. Then he will resign and a new leader will lead FF into the election.This has the advantage for FF in that the new leader will not be directly associated with the cut-backs in the Finance Bill.Some of the dissidents will then rejoin FF and stand for them in the general election.

  16. Why should there be a new leader? Think of all the valuable connections Brian Cowan has, connections he has used only for the good of Ireland. He should be up for canonization.

    And, no, I do not thank that the next flesh eating virus discovered should be named Fianna Failurea or Brian BCowanus.

  17. What exactly are the achievements of Martin, Lenihan or Hanafin that qualifies them to be leader? In what way are any of them a change? They were all the most loyal of loyal to the crony Ahern right up to the bitter end and then continued to put loyalty to FF over the country after Cowen took over, not one of them ever challenged the way the country was dealing with the mess – the reason being they are part of what caused it in the first place.

    Yet again this afternoon Biffo, who it seems was told to wear a different suit and shirt tone than normal, was completely silent on the role of FF in causing the mess – he was full of it about the ‘hard’ choices but had nothing to say on some of those hard choices could have been avoided if he hasn’t agreed to transfer the debts of Anglo and Irish Nationwide to the Irish taxpayer and not Cowen, or the pretenders, can explain why that decision was made.

    So if Cowen is replaced by any of them – what’s the difference – every single minister is tainted by their links to the cronyism – they were either benefitting directly from it or turned a blind eye to it – either way they are guilty.

  18. Personally I am less concerned with the leadership of FF as whoever it is will not be in office until 2016 at the earliest and as such they are largely irrelevant to the running of this country for the next five years. If the new leader is either Michael Martin or Mary Hannafin then FF will have a leader who is entirely complicit in the corruption, cronyism, abuse of power and incompetence that has got us into this mess in the first place. That is a fact they will never be able to escape from. What is of real interest is the ability of Kenny and Gilmore as leaders once they are installed in Government. Their recent spat over the no-confidence motion is a clear indication they will be prepared to attack each other between now and the election, something that will not imbue much confidence that they will be able to effectively govern together. Anyway lets focus more on FG and Labour, their policies, strengths and weaknesses and less on FF as they are now yesterday’s news and will have little or no say in our immediate to mid term future over the next five years.

    • You’re right – it is a bit of a side show (albeit and interesting one). Whether they change, or whoever takes over isn’t going to have a big impact on the country (or probably even their party).

  19. My belief that Cowen had done a deal with a potential challenger and will resign as leader of FF just before the election and allow a new leader to lead FF into the election was given credence just two hours after my post. Micheál Martin expresses no confidence in Cowen and offers his resignation.Cowen “passionately” pleads with Micheál to remain in cabinet and Micheál agrees!(This is not from Gilbert and Sullivan!)
    Sean FG asks for the evidence on which my belief was based. Of their nature, there can be no hard evidence of secret deals. But an experienced political observer can draw inferences from the objective position in which Cowen himself, his coterie in cabinet and party,and Fianna Fail as a party find themselves. In addition, a close analysis not only of what Cowen said at his press conference but,more importantly, what he did not say helps to reach a conclusion.
    The later developments last evening after my post have all the appearance of a deal between Martin and Cowen.
    When Cowen dissolves the Dail after the Finance Bill has passed, he will remain on as caretaker Taoiseach until the new Dail appoints a successor. However, he can resign as leader of Fianna Fail and allow the new leader of Fianna Fail to lead the election campaign. As the Dail does not sit during an election campaign, the incongruity of the situation will be less evident.
    The new leader can dissociate himself from Cowen in order to limit the damage to Fianna Fail and those of Cowen’s coterie who survive the election may end up on the new leader’s front bench!Erstwhile dissidents (such as Mattie McGrath) may then be readmitted to the parliamentary party and be put on the party ticket “as a show of unity”
    Because there can be no hard evidence, this may not happen even if this is the agreed deal. Events may force a change.
    But I believe that,as of now,the above is the most likely course of events

  20. While we witness the impact of the most severe economic crisis in the history of the state, the latest reported shenanigans in FF reveal the ultimate dominance of the ‘tyranny of faction’ over the public or national interest. And let no one be fooled that FG or Labour, confronting similar internal factional issues, would behave any differently.

    We need all Dail candidates to pledge that their primary allegiance is to the citizens who have delegated to them their ultimate authority and that whis will at all times supercede their loyalty to faction.

  21. Pingback: What changed in FF in the last week? | Daniel Sullivan - he’s a little political

  22. Below is an excerpt from The Big Picture, Jan 15, 2010 in a piece entitled, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” which has some excellent comments about Europe in general and this part about Ireland. The Big Picture is a free email newsletter by a highly respected NYC investment manager.

    THE THREAT OF THE IRISH

    In the midst of the credit crisis last year, the Irish government guaranteed not only the deposits of Irish banks but their bonds. Irish banks, like Icelandic banks, were larger than the GDP of the country. As it turns out, those guarantees are going to cost a great deal of money, about 30% of GDP. That would be the equivalent of over $4 trillion for the US, just for some perspective. And many of those guarantees are to German, French, and British banks. Irish taxpayers are in effect bailing out not only their own banks but banks all across Europe.

    The “bailout” engineered by the ECB and European authorities will require that that Irish pay around 10% of their national income in a few years just to service the debt, according to Barry Eichengreen, professor at U Cal Berkeley. How can you take 30-50% of your government taxes and pay down such high debt loads at 6% interest? That doesn’t leave much for actual government services. The short answer is, only with a lot of local pain and none for the bank bondholders, which again are German, French, and British banks. As Eichengreen writes:

    “This is not politically sustainable, as anyone who remembers Germany’s own experience with World War I reparations should know. A populist backlash is inevitable. The Commission, the ECB, and the German Government have set the stage for a situation where Ireland’s new government, once formed early next year, rejects the budget negotiated by its predecessor.

    “Do Mr. Trichet and Mrs. Merkel have a contingency plan for this?

    “Nor is the situation economically sustainable. Ireland is told to reduce wages and costs. It must engage in ‘internal devaluation’ because the traditional option of external devaluation is not available to a country that lacks its own national currency.

    “But the more successful it is at reducing wages and costs, the heavier will be its inherited debt load. Public spending then has to be cut even more deeply. Taxes have to rise even higher to service the debt of the government and its wards such as the banks.

    “This in turn implies the need for yet more internal devaluation, which further heightens the burden of the debt in a vicious spiral. This is the phenomenon of ‘debt deflation’ about w

  23. My prediction that a new leader will lead FF into the general election made immediately after Brian Cowen put down a motion of confidence in himself is now clearly on track.I said that Cowen would remain as Taoiseach but a new leader of Fianna Fail would be in place before the election. I said that there was probably a deal between Cowen and Micheal Martin.Despite Cowen’s stupidity this is probably still on course

    • The 2007 election was called on April 27 to take place on May 24 – so a four week campaign.

      Fianna Fáil will want a long official campign again so as the election is on March 11, the Dáil needs to be dissolved by February 11th which is only 3 weeks away.

      It will be cutting it fine for there to be another heave, a party meeting, a vote and then for an election to replace Cowen, if he did resign and then a campaign and election for a new leader and all the time Cowen would remain as Taoiseac as there is no way on earth a new leader could be Taoiseach for 3 weeks.

      For good or bad Fianna Fáil has made its choice for the election and it simply cannot afford the distraction of a leadership change now that the election date has been fixed.

      There will be no new leader of FF until after the election.

      • It’s possible to have a shorter campaign, so the last day the Dáil can dissolve for an election to take place on 11th March is Saturday 19th February – so it would probably happen a day or two earlier.

        In any case no one has suggested that there’d be a new taoiseach in this time, just that FF might have a new leader.

        This is unlikely as most TDs won’t want to waste time on this, and some of the key opponents of Cowen, such as Michael Kennedy have ruled out a new contest.

  24. This is what I said immediately after Brian Cowen put down a motion of confidence in himself as FF leader:
    Paddy Healy says:
    January 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm
    Having listened to Brian Cowen this afternoon, I believe that he has done a deal with one of his potential challengers. Brian will see the Finance Bill through the Dail. Then he will resign and a new leader will lead FF into the election.This has the advantage for FF in that the new leader will not be directly associated with the cut-backs in the Finance Bill.Some of the dissidents will then rejoin FF and stand for them in the general election.
    And on the following day I said:
    January 17, 2011 at 5:10 am
    My belief that Cowen had done a deal with a potential challenger and will resign as leader of FF just before the election and allow a new leader to lead FF into the election was given credence just two hours after my post. Micheál Martin expresses no confidence in Cowen and offers his resignation.Cowen “passionately” pleads with Micheál to remain in cabinet and Micheál agrees!(This is not from Gilbert and Sullivan!)
    Sean FG asks for the evidence on which my belief was based. Of their nature, there can be no hard evidence of secret deals. But an experienced political observer can draw inferences from the objective position in which Cowen himself, his coterie in cabinet and party,and Fianna Fail as a party find themselves. In addition, a close analysis not only of what Cowen said at his press conference but,more importantly, what he did not say helps to reach a conclusion.
    The later developments last evening after my post have all the appearance of a deal between Martin and Cowen.
    When Cowen dissolves the Dail after the Finance Bill has passed, he will remain on as caretaker Taoiseach until the new Dail appoints a successor. However, he can resign as leader of Fianna Fail and allow the new leader of Fianna Fail to lead the election campaign. As the Dail does not sit during an election campaign, the incongruity of the situation will be less evident.
    The new leader can dissociate himself from Cowen in order to limit the damage to Fianna Fail and those of Cowen’s coterie who survive the election may end up on the new leader’s front bench!Erstwhile dissidents (such as Mattie McGrath) may then be readmitted to the parliamentary party and be put on the party ticket “as a show of unity”
    Because there can be no hard evidence, this may not happen even if this is the agreed deal. Events may force a change.
    But I believe that,as of now,the above is the most likely course of events
    The essential elements of what I predicted have come to pass
    Why did political correspondents not pick this up?
    Have they become too dependent on “spin” from the PR people of major parties?

    • ” Brian will see the Finance Bill through the Dail. Then he will resign and a new leader will lead FF into the election.This has the advantage for FF in that the new leader will not be directly associated with the cut-backs in the Finance Bill.Some of the dissidents will then rejoin FF and stand for them in the general election.”

      All well and good except that the actual sequence of events was Brian resigned then the Greens did a deal with FG and Labour to ensure the passage of the finance bill. Not the other way around as you claimed and how can Martin not be “directly associated with the cut-backs in the Finance Bill.”

      And who are “the dissidents… rejoin FF and stand for them in the general election.” Cos we had several leave more today again including Matter McGrath.

  25. Brian resigned because he had made an unholy mess in trying to promote new ministers for a few weeks.
    This slightly changed the planned time scales but the essentials were correct

  26. Martin already had an overall majority before the meeting
    Cowens people wanted to do down Lenihan. There was no danger that O Caoimh would be elected or that Martin would fail to win

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