"There are times when one wonders how it is the Irish economy is such a success.
With the crowd of incompetents, dullards and nitwits that run the country, how did they not screw up the economy or induce others to do it for them?
These are the same people who are responsible for the engagement of media consultants, transport policy, e-voting, the purchase of grand houses for the state and the running of the police force. I am referring, of course, to Messrs Martin Cullen and Michael McDowell.
The Monica Leech story is hilarious. The first thing that Cullen gets into his head, when he becomes a junior minister and then a cabinet minister, is to hire Leech as a public relations consultant.
When he went to the Office of Public Works (OPW), he thought that the very thing it needed was a PR consultant in Waterford. The OPW never had a PR consultant before in a regional centre, but for a reason that was not explained in the report by Dermot Quigley, there was an urgent need for a PR consultant for Waterford.
In fact, it was so urgent that the usual tendering process could not be gone through.
The kind of thing that a PR consultant was needed for in Waterford was to announce an opening ceremony for refurbished government offices, the renovation of a Garda station, the doing up of a fire station and the start of a drainage scheme. If you think I am making this up, just read the report.
Cullen then gets his legs under the ministerial desk at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and, again the first thing he needs is a PR consultant.
And guess who he has in mind?
It doesn't matter that the department already has lots of press officers, nor that it already has contracted a very expensive outside PR agency, Drury Communications, Ms Leech's services cannot be done without.
She earns a packet of money, and it transpires that 30 per cent of her time is devoted to discussions with the minister, which costs the state around 84,000 Euros.That is for discussions with the minister, quite apart from her other functions.
What her other functions were is not at all clear from the Quigley report, especially as he notes there is a scarcity of documentation detailing what she did. She had an involvement in spatial strategy, but Drury Communications was specifically engaged to look after the PR aspects of that, so what was she doing?
And Quigley thinks this is all OK, for he failed to find a hard government regulation that Cullen transgressed in his department's engagement of Leech.
Cullen's ministerial record is such that he would be disqualified for the position of messenger boy in the Dail. He made a spectacular mess of the two major projects with which he has been associated: the purchase of Farmleigh House and the e-voting business.
The money he squandered on Leech is nothing compared with the funds he poured down the drain on these projects. It would have been ironic if he had been dismissed for wasting a few hundred thousand euro on Leech when he was retained and promoted, having wasted 56 million Euros on Farmleigh House and another 50 million Euros on e-voting.
But whatever the excuse for getting rid of him is, he must be got rid of. We can't have another two and a half years of going forward and 'rolling out' something or other. If he is allowed stay, he will have ground traffic to an absolute halt by the time of the next election wherever he is.
Onto the other clown Michael McDowell. His job is to run the Garda Siochana.
He has been squaring up to the police service since he became Minister for Justice two and a half years ago. He was the boy who would sort out the men in uniform.
But what has he done? Yes, there is the police inspectorate stuff, but so what? The same culture that has prevailed within the Garda for years still prevails, and McDowell is doing precisely nothing about it.
The relevance of this has to do with the release on bail of the only person yet to be convicted of an offence connected with the Omagh bombing of August 1998, Colm Murphy.
Again and again over the last few years, the Garda has been associated with scandal, and again and again things go on as before. The same structure and personnel at the helm (apart from the treadmill of retirements), the old culture, the same practices, with politicians on the sidelines, notably McDowell, promising reforms and transformation, on and on.
The Colm Murphy case collapsed because one team of two detectives was found to have fabricated evidence and then given false evidence under oath. What is significant about that is not that there are or may be one or two bad apples in the force, but that it is likely the practice they engaged in has featured on other occasions as part of Garda conduct. McDowell's mate, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, now on the Supreme Court, waved the red flag about the Garda two years ago in the Frank Shortt case. In a massive judgment, Hardiman catalogued not a lone the intimidatory abuses of the Gardai involved in that case but the inadequacy of the official Garda investigation into what had gone on.
Now, another mate of McDowell, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, also of the Supreme Court, in another massive judgment, has detailed the abuses that characterise the Garda handling of the Colm Murphy case and the trial of the case by the Special Criminal Court.
What more do we need to know about the Garda to realise that there is something very wrong at the heart of the organisation? They made a complete mess of the Veronica Guerin murder investigation, the conduct of the Gardai in Donegal defies belief, the handling of the Abbeylara affair was appalling, and now this.
There is an obvious initiative for McDowell to take but probably too obvious for him to be bothered about. It is to do to the Garda what was done to the RUC in Northern Ireland. Set up a commission to examine all aspects of policing, include on the commission people who know and understand policing (an obvious chairman would be Maurice Hayes who was on the Patten commission in Northern Ireland) and then implement the recommendations, come what may.
But McDowell is too busy strutting over the Northern Ireland peace process to be interested in something so mundane."
Vincent Browne,Sunday Business Post.30 Janruary 2005
Political ‘big beast’ moves in on stakeholders, not voters
24 September 2006 By Tom McGurk
He has waited a long time for it and now at last he has gained the prize.
He has waited a long time for it and now at last he has gained the prize. When Michael McDowell became leader of the PDs, there was more than a frisson doing the rounds of the political chattering classes.
Politicians of various shapes and sizes come and go, but there can be no denying that McDowell is the archetypical heavyweight, the proverbial political ‘big beast’.
Formidable species found in leafy confines of Dublin 4
These are now an endangered species in the modern spin-doctored, image-managed, rarefied world of consensual politics. In many ways, they are a dinosaur class, a throw-back to a previous political era when politics was a cut-and-thrust blood sport, when speeches came not from the autocues but from the gut, and parliament was the bull-ring.
Ian Paisley is one such figure. So too in Britain are figures like Kenneth Clarke, Gordon Brown and even George Galloway.
In the Dail, perhaps only Brian Cowen could scale the heavyweight division to line up across the ring from McDowell. Political big beasts always give the impression that they were born to rule, and maybe they were.
They lumber around, breaking all the media performance rules yet manage to get away with it. They generate instant reactions of approval or disapproval. Love them or hate them, they make for essential and unmissable political theatre.
With McDowell’s elevation, commentators lined up to express their concerns at how one so temperamentally gifted would fare. Some wondered how long the relationship with Bertie Ahern would last, others about what Fianna Fail backbenchers might do.
I imagined a mother and several aunts nervously standing at a garden gate watching little Michael take off for the first time on his new bicycle into the traffic.
Would he come back holding an errant trucker by the ear?
I think their fears are totally unfounded.
My instinct is that McDowell will generate a huge increase in support for the PDs. There are a number of reasons for this, all intimately related to the radical political changes that the Celtic Tiger economy has created in Ireland and the character of the man himself.
For a start, the economic miracle of the last decade has produced for the first time in Irish society, and in significant numbers, a new, native class of nouveau riche.
It’s on a tiny scale compared, for example, to Britain, but nonetheless represents a new, growing ‘Tory-instincted’ constituency.
These nouveau riche are deeply underwhelmed at the shotgun marriage of Labour and Fine Gael and, since they have never had it so good, they intend to maintain the status quo. Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte’s offer of new management doesn’t interest them - they are not looking for managers but for shareholders.
Traditionally Fianna Fail voters and aspiring Galway Races tenters, I suspect that many of them may vote PD for the first time, attracted by McDowell’s persona.
His unashamed low tax, small government and privatised economic agenda - with law and order apriority and a critical eye kept on immigration at the same time - will read to them like a five-star menu.
Under his new leadership, the PDs may even abandon the arid political moral high ground, an act that in real terms was only ever going to attract the political whingeing classes.
McDowell can afford to abandon the political whingers to their radio phone-ins and go instead for the corporate seat-holders. Just look at how many BMWs and Mercedes are stuck at the lights in traffic jams every morning.
The second reason has to do both with the character of McDowell and his unique political circumstances. As politics has transmogrified into a social democratic, middle-ground, beauty competition cum panto, there is more room for a full-sized ugly sister to create a stir.
Our timid, spin-doctored political classes, having abandoned political instinct, now tip-toe a narrow path of political correctness on which a political big beast is always going to hustle them aside.
He will win out because, first, he makes up his own rules as he goes along. Second, he speaks from the gut and, third - and critically in McDowell’s case - he is not seeking a widespread popular mandate but rather a small one from a significantly targeted interest group. To put it crudely, if you want someone to piss off 90 per cent of voters in order to attract the other 10per cent, ‘concerned of Ranelagh’ is your only man.
As a political divinity (and a bit like God, I suppose),McDowell is uniquely three-personed - a post-nationalist amalgam of parish priest, panto horse and pugilist. In all, he is a unique blend of authoritarianism and aggression, with the little touch of the truly bizarre never too far away. He can be spiteful and vindictive, but among our mediocre political classes his debating skills and his intellectual abilities are unequalled.
Interestingly, as an item on the political horizon, he has a bigger visibility than the party he actually leads. In media configurations, the PD party runs a very poor second to the spectre of McDowell himself.
All elections now are fought on television and McDowell is a consummate performer. He loves a political ruck in the way Cowen does - again a sure sign of the political big beast. In the midst of a studio shouting match, note in their eyes the ecstatic look of swine among the fertiliser.
I think Fine Gael may yet come to deeply regret losing McDowell in a tiff over the cucumber sandwiches down Donnybrook way some time ago. He still carries their DNA, but political circumstances now allow him to be both poacher and gamekeeper.
His slump coalition is only the beginning of the DIY weapons of mass destruction he is already hard at work at in his garden shed in Ranelagh. Call the next election how you like, but watch McDowell’s PDs end up closer to 10per cent than 3 per cent. Just you wait.