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The ship of Fools.

By John Drennan

Sunday March 07 2010

A leader who must hide the truth from his people is a piteous figure.

That was the position Brian Cowen found himself in last week when he claimed Ireland "was not suffering the Japanese experience" where banks spread out losses over a decade "to the detriment of lending to small businesses and households".

After another dysfunctional episode in the life of the weirdest government this country has ever suffered we had almost forgotten about the banks.

Nobody may have resigned but the Green comic operetta means that once again a heavy head will have sunk upon the pillows chez Cowen last Friday.

Some of his supporters claim Mr Cowen is an 'unlucky' leader but in this life you make your own luck and, even before the latest Green suicide, Mr Cowen's great reshuffle was sinking before it even began.

As he holds a quivering pencil above the names of the living dead in the Cabinet, all the omens suggest that outside of sacking some FF junior ministerial muppet to ensure Ciaran Cuffe can become the new Minister for Public Sector Reform this is just another joining the dots exercise.

And if Mr Cowen does attempt to use the political sword to shake up the way the State is ruled the attempt will be throttled by the mandarins. For if our civil service will not answer parliamentary questions how on earth will it create a series of entirely new departments?

In Leinster House, meanwhile, the Government was visibly fraying at the edges.

Last week's outburst by Michael Lowry provided Cowen with an unwelcome premonition of the need to condemn and thereby alienate the former FG deputy.

And should Mahon report, Mr Cowen will also have to weigh up the consequences of having to do to Bertie what the latter did to Charlie.

James McDaid has already made it clear that he wants an election by the autumn while if the hidden war between the Green ministers and their disaffected TDs escalates John Gormleymay be forced to walk to avoid a schism.

But while it is not easy to march to the beat of Dan Boyle's drum, the thing that is most likely to sink the Taoiseach is the banks.

Mr Cowen may already have been damaged beyond repair by their actions for since the great collapse a man, whose self-esteem is fragile, has been haunted by his role in destroying the economic sovereignty of the State.

The Taoiseach may publicly claim "we are where we are" almost by accident.

However, Mr Cowen knows he is the mutt who was asleep at the wheel when Seanie and the rest of Mr Cowen's pals in the Galway Races tent built a great house of cards with everyone else's money.

Worse still, the Taoiseach knows that D-Day, when he must lead us into the furnace he created, is approaching.

It may seem astonishing but in spite of all the 'pain' we have experienced Ireland and FF has not even come near to paying the full price for our economic collapse.

The reason for this is that in the run-up to Nama Ireland became a zombie state whose economy has been frozen.

But now that the nice bureaucrats in Europe have given us permission to implement Nama 'payback time' is almost here.

The horror story for us and Mr Cowen is that there will be lots of 'payback' because the problems facing FF, the banks and the State are far more systemic than the collapse of the billionaire property barons.

Last week, Enda Kenny claimed there will be a revolution in the streets if we have to pay €6bn to the unique creature that is Anglo Irish Bank.

The cruel truth is, however, that we'll be paying a lot more than €6bn or even €15bn before the game of Monopoly aka Nama will be over.

What's worse, we may need four more Namas to deal with the bankruptcy of small developers, the mortgage crisis, personal and credit card debt and commercial debt.

It is hard to avoid comparisons between the fate the banks have visited on us and Orwell's famous boot stamping eternally upon the lives of a society.

Each payment to the banks will act as a stake into the heart of the retail economy for it will come at the expense of any possible economic stimulus. Each cutback or the taxes on pensioners and the poor so we can give more money to the banks will be a further attack on national morale.

Nothing epitomises the reality of what life is like when your banks are bankrupt more than the political non-response to the proposed mortgage rate increases.

You can be sure that even this Cabinet of misanthropic masochists would not miss an opportunity to tell the bankers to leave the people alone.

But our bankrupt banks must play the Shylock with the citizens if they are to balance their books and our bankrupt State is powerless to stop them.

The bad news for Mr Cowen and his wretched crew is that last week was only the first episode of a two-year series about the joint role of FF and the banks in digging the grave where our country resides.

It is not often that we agree with Brian Lenihan but he was correct to say that the most unpopular Irish government since the famine was "deeply embedded in the banks".

The problem for FF is that Mr Cowen and the banks are as "embedded" as Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls before they jointly teetered into the abyss.

Of course, supporters of Mr Cowen will claim that he and FF possess the ability to endure in spades.

But the prospect of two years of feeding the banks billions of taxpayers' money while the country rots will destroy the morale of an administration terrified of the problems it faces.

Mr Cowen would be wise to realise governments usually fail because exhaustion and mutual hatreds mean they simply lose the will to carry on.

Whatever about FF the problem for Mr Cowen is that a year of unrelenting disasters may convince the Greens' weakest links that the game is not worth the organic candle.

If Twittering Dan or Paul 'f**k you' Gogarty decide the best way to save their careers is to walk then the rest of the cult will have to follow.

And if that happens the Greens may well get the credit -- and the blame -- but it will be the banks that will have brought Cowen, the Government and all tumbling down.

- John Drennan

Sunday Independent