When you live in a country which has a gross domestic product-economy of just €160bn and where the Government collects €30bn in taxes each year but spends closer to €50bn in social welfare, public sector salaries and interest on the national debt, you just know that politics will play a significant role in the national economic recovery. So even if you favour small government and laissez-faire policies, inIrelandyou can’t help but pay attention to politics.
And as every other media outlet is throwing around “politician of the year” awards like confetti, maybe there’s room for another,
But what metric might you objectively use to measure the performance of a politician? And given that much of a politician’s work takes place in private – with constituents, for example – how would you obtain the information from which you could assess performance? There is the obvious public performance on the national stage with speeches, the submission of PQs (Parliamentary Questions) and appearances on Oireachtas committees. And then there is the media, be it TV or radio appearances, columns in newspapers and increasingly, personal blogs and tweets. But what metric would you use?
Perhaps contribution to the greatest reform/advance?
But even if you zeroed in on a definition, how would you allocate brownie points? For example, most of us would agree it is an advance that in December 2011, the government of the day is not dependent on the caprices of Independents to govern the country. But to whom do you pay thanks for that? Enda Kenny or Eamon Gilmore? After all, it was both together who agreed coalition terms?
And should there be different metrics for different bands of politicians? Should An Taoiseach be judged differently to his ministers or backbenchers? Should Opposition party politicians be measured differently to independents?
Other media outlets presumably have answers to the above questions, but all you’ll get on here is a review of the highlights of the year, and a personal assessment of the performance of some of our own dear leaders.
Quotes of the year
“[a happy coincidence between your own self interest and the national interest?] I very much resent the fact that you are saying that [but isn’t it true?] I have not my own personal interest in this matter at all [but there’s a happy coincidence between-] I was perfectly prepared to resign if requested to do so and if the Taoiseach wishes and he is perfectly entitled to do so, he can sack me if he wants. I have no regard to my own personal- [can I just ask you?] No I really do resent this, I have no personal axe to grind, I simply want good leadership for this country, good leadership for our economy [yeah, yeah] stability and jobs for our people. This is not- It’s easy for you to be cynical and sceptical about the motivations of the people who go into public life. I have never ever tried to advance my own self interest in my public life ever, and I never will. And Ireally do resent the sneering insinuation that you are trying to put to me here tonight. That is not true, and people who know me, know that’s not true [my point was that: there was a happy coincidence between what seems to be your self interest-] There was no happy coincidence whatsoever and please do not try to insinuate in any fashion that I have tried to advance my self interest above and beyond the public interest which is my duty as a minister and as a representative for the people of Tallaght and the Dublin South West constituency and the people of this country. I deeply resent what you are now saying and if you embark on what you are now saying, I will meet you full-on in this matter… I am not seeking to beat you up about your integrity, so just back off Vincent. Back off!” Conor Lenihan on 20th January, 2011 on the Vincent Browne show in a master class in how not to behave, when Vincent Browne riles you. The words above were accompanied by aggressive karate-chop hand movements.
“[Joan, Eamon Gilmore said in the Late Late Show appearance with Ryan Tubridy a few months ago that there would be no changes made to any budgetary measures enacted by Fianna Fail, there’d be no changes as far as Labour was concerned to those budgetary enactments for the first year after Labour came into office] Well, I think you’re misquoting with due respect to you [ what do you recall he said] Well just, if you’re asking the question Vincent do you want an answer now or do you just want to harangue me? [maybe you’ll tell us what you recall him saying] well if I get an opportunity to answer I want to take it, thank you very much [go ahead and do tell us-]”Joan Burton on 24th January, 2011 on the Vincent Browne show, a performance which will forever associate the term “harangue” with the current Minister for Social Protection
“It’s Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way” Eamon Gilmore on 3rd February, 2011 on the campaign trail in the 2011 General Election, later dismissed as chapel gate rhetoric
“All I can say to the Irish people, some of whom may be watching here tonight is if things go our way and there will be a new government in six weeks time and the banks aren’t getting another cent. Anglo Irish Bank is not getting another cent of our money. Any bank coming to us looking for more money is going to have to show how they are going to impose losses on their junior bondholders, on their senior bondholders, and on other creditors before they come looking to us for any more money. Not another cent.” Leo Varadkar during the General Election campaign in February 2011
“You’ll notice that just about ten days ago when there was talk of burden- sharing on the sovereign side in Greece, they, Mr Trichet said that the bank, the central bank in Frankfurt would not be able to honour Greek paper and use it as collateral for liquidity in their [Greek] banking system but no such threat was put to Ireland; but you know a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse so we know what their negotiation position is” Michael Noonan speaking on RTE’s This Week radio programme in 26th June, 2011
“The rape and torture of children were down-played or managed to uphold the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation. Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St. Benedict’s “ear of the heart”, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a Canon lawyer. This calculated, withering position is the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion on which the Roman Church was founded. Such radicalism, humility and compassion comprise the essence of its foundation and purpose. This behaviour is a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est, [Rome has spoken, the matter is closed] except in this instance nothing could be further from the truth.” Enda Kenny on 20th July 2011 speaking in the Dail on the day the Cloyne Report was published
“If the Anglo bondholders are paid, they will be paid from their own resources. This will not come from the taxpayer” Enda Kenny on 28th September, 2011 speaking in the Dail, parroting statements previously made by Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan and listened to with incredulity by the nation
“[How do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?] I think that’s a disgraceful comment to make” presidential hopeful Martin McGuinness on Prime Time on 13th October 2011. struggling with the Sinn Fein strategy to defer discussion of views and involvement in the savagery that took place on all sides during the conflict inNorthern Ireland, to such a time that some version of a truth and reconciliation commission can offer terms in which the savagery on all sides can be examined
“There are 300 people from the Priory Hall apartments, built by an acquaintance of the Deputy, who are staying in a hotel at present. He blatantly flouted the planning regulations to build a firetrap. Where were the job losses then? I might finish my point. Three hundred people are staying in a hotel because they were moved out of a firetrap by court order. I advise the leader of the Sinn Féin Party that Deputy Ó Caoláin was always accurate in his views about what should be done. I thank him for that comment. He will not stand by people living in a firetrap with that anxiety and concern.” Enda Kenny in the Dail on 19th October, 2011 replying to a leaders’ question from Gerry Adams about a risk to Aviva jobs in Dublin, one of a great many non-answers which have characterised the last ten months; this one was particularly egregious coming two days after Gerry Adams had worked with Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair and Kofi Annan to help deliver a ceasefire by ETA in Spain, something that went completely unacknowledged in the Dail
“I don’t want to cast any aspersions on him, but he’s a convicted criminal, a fuel smuggler, investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau and rented the office out to Gerry Adams, Martin’s colleague, in the last general election [did you get a cheque from this guy or did you not?] I have no recollection of getting a cheque from this guy [sssh and guffaws from audience] I can tell you, let me explain this very simply [the man said you went to his house, Sean] I have explained that there were two or three people I asked, invited. I don’t know the man very well that’s in question so- [hang on a second, you say you went around to a fuel smuggler and all sorts of things, and invited him to a Fianna Fail do?][audience applause] I’m telling you quite simply Pat, I was asked- [now you’ve labelled him one thing and yet you invited him, so which is it or are you happy with both?] I ware at the time three years ago, I’m just making the point that I was asked to pass the information on to local business communities which I did. I want to say one thing, this is not what the presidential election should be about [applause] [Martin McGuinness, do you want to briefly..][I think Sean should answer the question. And the question is “did he go to a man’s house, the man who spoke to me on the telephone several hours ago, to collect a cheque for €5,000] What Martin has said is that I drove to the man’s house to deliver a photograph of the event and he gave me a cheque. I may well have delivered the photograph. If he gave me an envelope I- [audience reaction] Presidential hopeful Sean Gallagher on RTE’s Frontline TV programme on 24th October, 2011 seeing his almost assured election victory, dashed in the course of a few seconds on the back of a fake tweet given credence by RTE
“I’m only a politician, I wouldn’t have the necessary expertise to evaluate that” Phil Hogan in December 2011 responding to questions on proposals that might be made by the “expert group” examining the introduction of a property tax, and possibly conceding more than he should about the utility of politicians
“When we were in Opposition we obviously had to oppose as strongly as possible what the Government was doing” Joe Costello speaking on The Vincent Browne Show 1st December, 2011, giving his views on the function of an Opposition in a democracy
Top 3 moments in the Oireachtas in 2011
2nd November, 2011. When Anglo repaid a €200m senior unguaranteed unsecured bond at the end of May 2011, there was barely a peep from politicians or the media. It’s difficult to tease asunder the contribution of various events which occurred in the following five months, but by 2nd November the whole country was talking about the fact that bankrupt Ireland was going to pay USD $1bn to senior unsecured unguaranteed bondholders in a bust, zombified bank; it was front page news, there had been a Prime Time programme covering the repayment, there were marches and protests. And at 10.30am on 2nd November, 2011 Leaders’ Questions kicked off in the Dail and the subject dominated the session with Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the technical group all focussing on the issue. And after Leaders Questions, the subject remained to the fore as the Opposition sought to get a debate on the Order of Business, the Opposition called for a vote which was electronically taken and which it lost, then the Opposition asked for a manual count. And then first Sinn Fein and then the technical group announced they were walking out in symbolic protest at the payment. This was the picture in the Dail afterwards.
3rd November, 2011. It was on the afternoon of the 1st November, 2011 that it was announced that a €3.6bn error had been made in the calculation of Ireland’s national debt (more correctly, the Government General Debt, GGD). This represented 3% of our existing debt and 2% of GDP. It was a colossal cock-up. Then on 3rd November – just two days later – the Committee of Public Accounts convened a hearing where it summoned the heads of the Department of Finance and the National Treasury Management Agency to attend to explain how the error was made. It was an inspiring moment of expedient and effective political cooperation and oversight, of which we should all have been proud. Unfortunately that’s where the pride evaporated. Kevin Cardiff, the Secretary General of the DoF turned up to answer on behalf of his department which is responsible for the calculation of the GGD and when the Committee demanded detailed answers they were told there were to be two reviews, with an internal review to be completed by the end of November. Who was framing the terms of reference for the internal review? Erm, why that was none other than Kevin Cardiff. Who was selecting the external reviewer and drafting their terms of reference? Again, Kevin Cardiff. In fairness to the Committee, its members quickly saw the defect in this approach. But (1) the Committee failed to take the matter further and, for example, write to the Cabinet asking for external responsibility for the reviews and (2) the end of November came and went and there is still no published review. Mind you, after much effort Kevin has been pushed over the line to get the €276,000 role at the European Court of Auditors.
20th July, 2011. Enda Kenny delivered what has been his most pungent, provocative and many might say, effective speech of his tenure as An Taoiseach when he spoke on the occasion of the publication of the Cloyne Report on religious sex abuse in a Cork parish. He abandoned the fuzzy terms – “sexual abuse”, “physical abuse” and “cruel treatment”, for examples – and used a mix of plain language – “rape”, “torture” – and more florid language – “swish of a soutane, smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible” to convey a message from an Irish de facto head of state, that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. For some, the attack on the church was too harsh, which is debatable but what seems clear is that the aftermath led to a cooling of relations with Vatican City and we ended the year with the farcical act of closing the embassy to the Vatican City but moving the Irish embassy to Italy from its premises in Rome to the Vatican City premises. For a country that is still predominantly Catholic, it seemed the events between July and December were insensitively managed by the Government.
Part 2 tomorrow with awards for blogger of the year, bogger of the year (probably an obvious winner), windbag of the year, the Vicky Pollard award for talking complete rubbish at high speed, the Dail dress code and etiquette, Gaeilge, politician of the year and a look ahead to 2012.