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Aaron McKenna: How we all missed the week’s biggest story

Roisin Shortall’s resignation dominated the news this week – which may be a relief for some in Government.

Aaron McKenna

TO READ THE news commentary, it was a week of high political drama and ground shaking revelations and resignations. Two cabinet ministers got caught up in constituency ‘stroke politics’ and one junior minister resigned, a part of the widening schism between Fine Gael and Labour in government.

The housing of one family of Travellers in Hogan’s constituency and the potential placing of two health centres into Reilly’s brings us back to the days of Fianna Fáil and gombeen politics writ large. The passive and sometimes aggressive relationship between coalition partners reminds us of the end of the Green Party. The splits in Labour remind us of, well, just about every time the left gets into government.

These matters are human and they are understandable. In the same way that we boil our multi-billion euro budgets into discussions of how many Special Needs Assistants this would pay for, the media and public tend to grasp the familiar. As we jumped from Hogan, the maligned bringer of the household charge, to Reilly, the guileless (alleged) practitioner of constituency favouritism, folks commented how relieved the former must be to have the heat taken off by the latest scandal. The common consciousness tends to have a one-track mind.

One TD’s assistant tweeted during the week that productivity had increased dramatically on his corridor of power after the appointment of Alex White to replace Roisin Shortall.

But amidst all this speculation about who said what to whom – where leaks of internal documents originated and who would be the winners and losers in the incestuous melting pot of Leinster House and its environs – there were somewhat more consequential things happening.

Wiped away

In Europe, the finance ministers of Germany, the Netherlands and Finland released a statement outlining their governments’ position that their cash, in the form of the European bailout funds for distressed countries, can only be used to solve future problems. In other words, Ireland’s existing debt and banking problems are not going to be wiped away by these funds.

With all due respect to Roisin Shortall’s stand against old-school constituency patronage and the political belittling of principled individuals, in terms of scale her problems are a small annoyance; like a fly buzzing in the room while a bulldozer is knocking it down with you inside.

In response to the German-Dutch-Finnish statement, our government did the usual: Flat out deny anything is wrong. These guys would stand in a burning building and insist on calmly drinking tea if their stated policy was that the place is fireproof.

The official line from Enda Kenny in the Dáil is that this was a statement by “merely” three finance ministers among 27.

Eamon Gilmore gave an interview to Bloomberg News that was vintage Irish political talk-around. “Between differences of language and so on and so forth, sometimes we can put a little too much emphasis on finding a particular word or phrase or a couple of phrases and reading too much into that.”

I dunno Eamon; I keep reading the statement and can’t seem to find those lines you’re reading between:

The ESM can take direct responsibility of problems that occur under the new supervision, but legacy assets should be under the responsibility of national authorities.

That reads to me a lot like “We’re not paying for your existing problems.” And coming from three countries without which the ESM won’t work – for they are the last remaining European bloc with an economy that’s worth a damn – it doesn’t seem that the adjective ‘mere’ applies.

Our illustrious government keeps to the line, like a whiney child, that an agreement was made in June and it’s just not fair that somebody should come along and change it. As per usual with domestic policy, they’re conflating their dreams and aspirations with reality and achievements.

These three countries don’t want to be dragged under paying for our existing substantial problems while even bigger ones could (and are waiting to) blow up elsewhere. Whatever we feel – quite justifiably – about the role of European banks in our present predicament, governments rarely make policy affecting foreigners based on goodwill and moral justice alone.

Pushover

The Irish government strategy of banking on this specious goodwill – by being placid negotiators, toeing the line and delivering the fiscal stability referendum – doesn’t seem to be a flying success. A third of the way into the term of this Government, the promises of ‘not one more red cent to bondholders’ from Fine Gael and ‘Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way’ are well behind us.

A third of the way in, and their negotiation strategy has delivered the sum total of nothing, bar a reduction in interest payments that was secured because a bigger and more important player in the debt crisis was getting it. Not being a nuisance has won us plaudits, kind words, and a presumption of being a pushover come each and every new chapter in the crisis.

The failure to deliver a solid deal on the overhang of debt – peaking at 160 per cent of GNP while the economy remains, as the ESRI puts it, bouncing along at the bottom – will simply lead to more and more of a downward spiral. The government can’t face up to this reality. Their failure to deliver will see continued rot and eventual collapse of the financial footing of the state as interest bills mount on top of mortgage crisis, brain drain, eroding public services and all the rest. So they prefer to double down on their strategy and pretend nothing is wrong.

A junior minister resigning or a couple of senior ones playing stroke politics in their constituencies is salve for the mind of a government failing to deliver on the really consequential issues.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna.

Read: More columns from Aaron McKenna on TheJournal.ie>

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