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The Ship of Fools

Miriam is perhaps my favourite journalist. She takes the mickey out of the Fianna Fail "ship of fools" like nobody does:

DAIL SKETCH: Biffo’s rage might have been better directed at national calamity than trivial personal insult, writes MIRIAM LORD  

(April 2010)

"IT WILL be old women and children and sick people first, because Captain Cowen has no intention of going down with his ship. And as he waves them off in the lifeboats – angry, frightened and phoning Joe Duffy for directions – the man who was at the helm when the Anglo iceberg loomed becomes emotional. Finally, he discovers a pulse.

Afterwards, some said he was close to tears. Hurrah! Passion at last from the Taoiseach. Look! He’s fighting back. That’s the spirit, Brian.

His clueless crew, who sat on their hands on Tuesday while the full extent of the tragedy unfolded, decided this was the most appropriate time for applause.

It wasn’t.

Biffo’s anger was not the anger of the ordinary people outside Leinster House. His anger wasn’t sparked by the beggaring of a country by the swaggering coterie of idiots he allowed run riot in the first-class cabins. His fury didn’t stem from the knowledge that he supped with these men who knew disaster was around the next headland, yet never bothered to tell him. Or maybe they did, and he chose to do nothing.

Cap’n Cowen wasn’t emotional because the ship of State ran aground on his watch. His spirit wasn’t moved by feelings of remorse or regret.

No. Taoiseach Brian Cowen became overwrought in the Dáil yesterday because the leaders of the Opposition insulted his dignity. They sought to impugn his integrity. They wounded his pride.

Then he fought back. Only then, did he get angry. Clearly, he doesn’t do embarrassment.

For sure, it was an entertaining floorshow from Biffo. But that’s all it was.

On Toxic Tuesday, his Government outlined the awfulness of the situation facing the people of Ireland. While Cowen was minister for finance, he was in charge of an economy that veered wildly out of control. Now, as a direct result of what happened – under his nose – in out-of-control financial institutions, the country is saddled with a crippling debt.

But he didn’t see it coming.

So Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore had every right to come into Dáil Éireann yesterday to demand answers. Biffo is a big boy, who has been playing in the big league for a long time. Enda and Eamon hit hard. Below the belt, even. But these are crisis times. The Taoiseach has never outlined in any detail what happened on that night back in September 2008 when he held a crisis meeting with the bankers, resulting in the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and a bank guarantee for five other institutions.

Apart, that is, from stressing how critical the situation was in the light of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in America.

The cost to the taxpayer of keeping Anglo on life-support now runs at more than €40 billion. The Opposition leaders wanted to know why it was so vital to keep Anglo afloat.

Enda spoke darkly of a private dinner the Taoiseach enjoyed with the board of the bank in April of that year, when the writing was already on the wall. Did they tell him nothing?

Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. In the Dáil, Biffo chose to take grave offence at this assault on his integrity.

Eamon Gilmore was ruthless. In the absence of documentation, he could only conclude that the Taoiseach acted to protect “vested interests” close to Fianna Fáil. If this was true, Cowen had committed “economic treason”.

Whereupon Cap’n Cowen, still standing proudly on the prow of the sinking SS Ireland, became incandescent with rage.

“I’m 25 years in politics. I am beholden to nobody,” he roared. “I will not be accused of seeking to cause treason to my country. I find that beyond the Pale.”

Diddums.

The Labour leader wanted to see documentation.

An exasperated Cowen explained there was none, particularly concerning Anglo. “We made the decisions that night and the discussions continued until the early hours of the morning. It was not a question of me getting papers . . .”

They acted quickly. And the rest is horrible history.

But here’s a thing. Labour’s Pat Rabbitte wrote a letter to The Irish Times last year.

He told Madam: “In Tuesday’s Dáil debate I asked the Minister for Finance about the claim by Morgan Kelly of UCD that on September 29th the Department of Finance sought to exclude Anglo Irish Bank from the guarantee but were overruled by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. Mr Lenihan’s response is intriguing: ‘The only decision the Government had to take was whether we would proceed to guarantee all institutions or whether we could contemplate the nationalisation of this institution as we are doing and guarantee the rest of them.’”

The letter continues: “But it appears that the Department of Finance came to that meeting with a ready-made Bill to take over Anglo Irish Bank. According to Mr Lenihan: ‘The only legislation before the Taoiseach and I on that evening was a Bill which, in all material terms, is the same as the Bill before the House today’ ie, the Bill to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank.”

So there WAS documentation on that night when we are told by the Taoiseach that he and his minister and civil servants were winging it. It was a Bill to nationalise Anglo.

Very strange.

And here’s what deputy Ned O’Keeffe (FF) said about Anglo in the Dáil on Tuesday night: “It has been a disgrace to Irish banking, to the Government and to the Fianna Fáil Party . . .”

No wonder Brian is upset. Anglo broke the first rule of Fianna Fáil – never get caught."