Scenes resembling something from a Shakespearean tragedy continue to unfold in the minefield of Irish politics as Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced the date for the upcoming General Election as March 11th.
Earlier today, the besieged Taoiseach announced his resignation as leader of Fianna Fáil. However, he will stay on as Taoiseach until the General Election, perhaps even entertaining the delusional hope that his career as Taoiseach will continue past that election.
Fianna Fáil was Ireland’s largest political party and one of the most successful European political organizations ever seen. Now the party’s approval ratings have hit a cataclysmic low and Cowen’s own approval rating is a miserable 14%.
First came the disastrous mishandling of the Irish economy. Then the four draconian austerity budgets were imposed on the Irish. Then came the decision to accept the IMF/EU bailout. Recently, news of Brian Cowen’s suspect meetings with chairman of the toxic Anglo-Irish Bank in the weeks prior to the bank bailout surfaced. Just when you think things can’t get any worse…
On Tuesday the Taoiseach somehow managed to survive a vote of no confidence from his own party. Then on Thursday, six Fianna Fáil cabinet ministers resigned and announced that they would not contest the next elections – analogies to a certain unloved species of rodent and sinking ships might be in order, except that such creatures then have to swim for their lives, not retire with an astronomical government pension.
What Brian Cowen did next continues to astound; in the long and turbulent history of Fianna Fáil, that decision may well rank in the top ten of machinations that backfired spectacularly.
Horror and confusion reigned as Cowen attempted a last-minute cabinet reshuffle, wanting to award the six vacant ministerial posts to other loyal party members. Apparently, Cowen believed that a fresh line-up of candidates for the next elections would be just the thing to save the party. Frankly, someone could make a whole career out of trying to make sense of the strange labyrinth of Cowen’s political thinking. Perhaps a psychiatrist or an expert on the literature of Edgar Allan Poe might be right for that job.
Cowen’s own party members objected loudly to the scheme. After six simultaneous resignations, further political instability would be the last nail in the Fianna Fáil coffin. The Taoiseach, never admired for his communications skills, was urged to realize the full extent of the outrage his decision would inspire in the public. At a time when the Irish are trying to adjust to even further austerity measures, a decision to reshuffle a collapsing government can be seen as nothing but “jobs for the boys” – loyal mates of Cowen serving as ministers for a couple of weeks, and then resigning with ministerial pensions and golden handshakes. The mood in the country is now such that few would assign non-cynical motives to Cowen’s strategies. At best, he is viewed as incompetent. At worst, as a traitor to his country.
Fianna Fáil is in open revolt against Cowen, the Opposition is moving into hyperdrive rage, the public has little but scorn and hatred for him – but it gets even worse. Junior government coalition partners, the Greens, threatened to withdraw from government if Cowen’s reshuffle were enacted. This would have meant an instantaneous collapse of the Irish government, followed by an immediate General Election.
An un-named Fianna Fáil TD (Member of Parliament) yesterday told the Irish Independent:
“I feel betrayed. After all the stuff we have been through and put up with – the things we had to sell to people – and the times we backed him, he goes and does something like this. It’s unbelievable.” An agitated Fianna Fáil colleague agreed, “You’re just watching the implosion of Fianna Fail. We are in such a state. There is a lot of talk about him being asked to resign or there will be a move against him. He is f***ing delusional. His contribution to the meeting the other night was like something from 20 years ago at a convention. He was saying we were ready, we had the candidates, we had the money – we have nothing. We can’t go to the public with the baggage this man has. This big beast of Fianna Fail has ruined the party.”
Well, now Cowen has stepped down as leader of the doomed Fianna Fáil party. The question remains, however, whether the TDs and ministers understand that in the eyes of the Irish electorate, the upcoming election is not primarily about the peculiarities of Mr. Cowen. Replacing Cowen and his senior cohorts as the top echelon of Fianna Fáil will not better the party’s chances of avoiding complete destruction in the upcoming General Election.
The Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland has released a report estimating that 100,000 Irish people are expected to emigrate from Ireland in 2011-2012. 100,000 people in a population of just under 4.5 million is a catastrophe, socially and economically; to put things in perspective, this figure can translate as every man, woman and child in Co. Waterford in south-eastern Ireland leaving the country. All of them.
This could end up being the highest level of emigration since the Famine. 25,000 Irish people are expected to lose their jobs this year alone. All over the country, people are struggling to keep up with their mortgages, their taxes and the cost of everyday living as the draconian new austerity budget is imposed upon them. Every day, the dole queues lengthen. Dark rumors of an epidemic of suicides are spread in chilling whispers.
Conditions for the Irish people are rapidly descending from the harsh to the positively medieval. Blame for that rests fairly and squarely at the door of Fianna Fáil, whose economic policies have spelled disaster for the nation.
The political farce and continuing scandals of Fianna Fáil are an insult to the Irish. But the ultimate insult is for Fianna Fáil politicians to honestly expect the Irish to give a damn who is the leader of their doomed party. Fianna Fáil faces doomsday at the election polls. Not because Brian Cowen is a bad politician, but because Fianna Fáil policies were a disaster, their ideological foundations damaging to the country. The March 11th General Election will be about saving Ireland from the doomed strategy of unfettered, unregulated capitalism, not about the Taoiseach. For Cowen to resign as party leader changes nothing. I hereby call on all Fianna Fáil TDs and ministers to go away and live in self-imposed exile on Elba along with their disgraced Taoiseach to fit his style of Napoleonic schemes – they enabled him throughout.