Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the Palazzo Chigi in Rome on Friday afternoon last when our €200,000-a-year Taoiseach was meeting with his €0-a-year Italian counterpart, Mario Monti to discuss the deal on Ireland’s bank debt that was indicated in the EU summit in June. Actually we refer to a “deal” in Ireland, but all the summit communiqué committed to, was an examination of “the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme” and right now, An Toaiseach Enda Kenny looking for support for a debt deal from the Italians is akin to the Americans seeking food-aid from famine-struck North Korea. After all, Italy’s debt:GDP is higher than Ireland’s, its economy is contracting and is expected to contract in 2013 (unlike Ireland’s) and yes, the “technocrat” Mario Monti is doing his job for €0 whilst An Taoiseach remains one of the best paid leaders in Europe, better paid than the prime ministers of the UK, Denmark, Sweden – whose countries are providing us with bilateral bailout loans – and indeed better paid than many politicians in the EU including France’s, Spain’s and at a geographical stretch, Russia’s. Perhaps the meeting with Pope Benedict the 16th was more natural once the “rape and torture” of Irish children by a priesthood more concerned with the primacy of Rome’s authority was diplomatically sidestepped.
An Taoiseach’s credibility is on the line with these bank debt negotiations. We won’t soon forget the “Playboy of the Western World”-like boast after the June summit when Enda told us “I’m a hard grafter and, as some of them found out, they shouldn’t tangle with me too often”. I have been waiting since June for Old Mahon to turn up and tell us all that all the little fecker did was whack him on the head when he had his back turned. (Old Mahon is likely to be played by Angela Merkel).
Back here, this week saw the publication of the wording of the referendum on children’s rights which is set to take place on 10th November, 2012 and as far as can be ascertained will be passed by 100% – “shure, who would deny rights to children?”. What is incomprehensible is that the referendum is needed at all, and the objectives behind the referendum can’t simply be accommodated with changes to legislation. But never mind, it’s all about the children. And how are we doing on the referendum to abolish the Seanad? You might recall An Taoiseach’s address to the nation on the eve of last year’s budget announcement, when on 4th December he committed to holding a referendum to abolish the Seanad this year. The speech appears to have been deleted from the MerrionStreet.ie and Taoiseach.ie websites but you can still read the text here. And this is what An Toaiseach said
“50 quangos will be abolished or merged, and the public sector will be downsized by 23,000 people by 2015. Next year, we will hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad. But these steps are just a start.”
Of course Enda got a hard time when he tried to defend his referendum plans in the Seanad itself just before the summer recess. And no politician – FG, Labour, SF, FF, PBB, SP, WUAG or other – is promoting a referendum to abolish the Seanad; it is hard to see how their position is anything but a parochial attempt to preserve a source of funding or a personal potential waiting-room pending a return to the Dail. One of our bilateral bailout countries, Denmark, abolished its Seanad in the 1950s, it can be done but as we saw with the lobbying to move the €3.6bn-error Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors, why would Chairman Enda want to rock a boat unless he absolutely needed to.
This was also the week when we learned that nepotism and jobbery still flourishes in our national parliament with at least 27 TDs and senators revealed to be employing relatives including spouses at our expense. At time of writing, it seems as if the “records” obtained by the Independent for its worthwhile feature yesterday were obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, but if there is any official available record it will be posted here over the next week.
And who will forget the threats to third year students of withholding or delaying education grants because their parents might not have paid the €100 household tax. Perhaps a childrens rights referendum can’t come soon enough after all! Some might understand and agree with the equity of organs of state insisting that taxes be paid before grants are issued but when you review the salaries of Ireland’s 34 county and city councils – see extract below from this excellent article this year in the Irish Examiner – this in a country with 4.6m people, you’d wonder whether it was the students or the councils who were displaying most chutzpah.
Meanwhile 19 months into a potential 60-month term, An Taoiseach has ruled out a reshuffle. Such has been the sparkling performance of Ministers Hogan, Reilly, Shatter, Howlin and indeed Noonan, not to mention the brilliance of several junior ministers that now is not the time to rearrange the chairs or bring into government some of the talent that languishes on the back benches. When Enda weighs the obvious deficiencies of several ministerial fiascos with the upheaval and loss of loyalty that might result from a reshuffle, the decision is made easier for the consummate Chairman.
But the line of least resistance is not the sole preserve of An Taoiseach. Budget overruns in education, health and elsewhere may be clawed back by cutting the capital programme. Because the capital programme benefits employment that has yet to be created, it is politically easier to cut this budget without anyone noticing. After all, an existing employee complains more than a notional new employee who would benefit from the capital programme. And the tenor of announcements this week by ministers trying to clawback budget overspends this year is that it is the capital programme that will pick up the bill. And this just a couple of months after the fanfare of the €2.25bn capital programme announcements.
And despite it all, on this Sunday we learn from the latest Red C opinion poll published by the Sunday Business Post that Fine Gael in particular has emerged unscathed after 19 months in which the economy has continued to, at best, flatline. At 32% of the poll, it is a testament to the often-overlooked qualities of this government – stability with a huge majority, meeting all the quantitative targets in the bailout agreement and manning the helm of the ship through very choppy EuroZone crisis waters – and an Opposition that is not yet producing credible policy alternatives.
Still though, 32%? You might be left wondering if the clowns are inside or outside Leinster House.