23 February, 2010

George, Deirdre, Willie and Trevor

What a fortnight! 

There's been quite a few losers in all of this and some winners as well. Dan had a good week last week, as did Vincent P Martin and Gary Fitzgerald. The rest of us? No, we didn't cover ourselves in glory, but that's the benefit of hindsight.

George Lee's departure from politics a fortnight ago took most of us by suprise. He strikes me as decent guy who found life in Leinster House a lot more difficult than it appears from afar. Change can takes a long time to happen, and involves compromise and lenghty discussions. I got some flack over describing a meeting of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges as being similar to watching paint dry, but change happens slowly when all sides seek consensus on an issue. The end result of that particular process will probably result in a legislature that sits longer and spends more time both legislating and dealing with topical issues, but the road to that destination is long and winding.

George wanted to move quickly, and in the media results have to happen for a 6 or a 9 o'clock deadline, and I'm sure he found that frustrating. You've also got to have a good working relationship with your colleagues, and that's always a challenge. There's a mad mix of ego and idealism in politics, and collegiality is often crucial in getting the right result. I had a few brief chats with George over the last few months. We discussed kids and the challenge of a work-life balance, and he struck me as a decent individual. I can only imagine that it was difficulty to come into a party where most members of the front bench have three or four Dáil terms behind them, and where the existing TDs already have clearly delineated roles.

Deirdre de Burca's departure has been a real loss. She's been a great campaigner for the Green Party and did great work in exposing planning and waste management peculiarities in County Wicklow. She grew up just down the road from me in Cabinteely, and I suspect that the campaigns against the rezoning of Cherrywood led by her neighbour Michael Smith in the early 1990's informed her own politicisation. Michael has gone on to edit the Village Magazine, and is providing a lively and informed commentary on contemporary Ireland. She attended some of the World Social Forums and was enthused by the discussion of alternative economic systems. I feel that she found Government challenging, and particularly the tough decisions over the bank guarantees and the setting up of the National Assets Management Agency. She loves the stimulation of European policy and decision-making and gave much of her time to the Forum on Europe, campaigning for a yes vote in the Lisbon Referenda, and catching up with the latest developments in Brussels. As a result of this she wasn't the most frequent attendee at our weekly parliamentary party meetings, and she missed out on a lot of the discussions last autumn around the renegotiation of the Programme for Government. I was surprised that she lobbied for a position in Brussels, but that's water under the bridge now. 

I'm also taken aback by the thrust of her most recent email regarding the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA). We all receive tens of thousands of emails every year, and in my experience I would either raise an issue of concern at our weekly parliamentary party meetings, or by writing directly to John or his senior staff. I tend not to cc John in emails that I've sent to someone else as he's even more swamped with information than the rest of us. In any case by the time that she wrote to him last August the concerns about the Docklands had already been well aired by Kathleen Barrington in the Sunday Business Post. I suspect that the DDDA won't come out of all of this as a paragon of corporate governance, but I am reassured that John Gormley has appointed Niamh Brennan as chair of the Authority.

 The irony in all of this is that the green critique of the Celtic Tiger years has been well and truly vindicated at this stage. We were critical of decisions made by previous governments, and the over-reliance on tax incentives, especially in the area of property development. That's why I'm heartened that Brian Cowen has Peter Clinch as his economic advisor. Peter co-authored 'After the Celtic Tiger' along with Frank Convery and Brendan Walsh, and it is heartening that he has the ear of our Taoiseach during these tough times. I suspect that there's not too many unexploded bombs in the DDDA, but if there is, I'm sure that John Gormley will take the right course of action. 

The Willy O'Dea resignation was messy. The Greens; Fianna Fáil; Willy O'Dea himself, no-one in government comes out of this well. Given that Pat Carey seems to have made the decision to run with the Motion of Confidence in the shower on Wednesday morning, we need to have much clearer lines of communication, and decision-making, and I'm glad to say that he's agreed to that. You might think that in a small Party we'd be in close contact with each other all the time, but the reality is that we're all stretched, trying to cover several portfolios at the same time. Sitting days are often a blur with opportunities to catch up with colleagues being limited to chance meetings in the corridors, text messages, or a hurried lunch in the Dáil canteen. One of the difficulties was that the text from Pat Carey's office regarding the Motion of Confidence only went to Dáil deputies and did not go to Senators, so Dan didn't realise that realise that matters would move as quickly as they did. It may come across as nit-picking, but voting against a Motion of No Confidence a week later would have been quite different from voting for a motion of Confidence on the day. Vincent P Martin's article on the Wednesday was excellent, but the Limerick Leader failed to exonerate Willy O'Dea, and both the tape, his interview and the Dáil debate failed to do the Minister any favours.

Meanwhile life goes on in Leinster House. I'm meeting some rail freight users at 11, a trip out to see Eirgrid's control room at 12, and the Dáil week kicks off at 2.30. 

The pic? That's the unfinished Anglo-Irish Bank headquarters in Dublin Docklands, and someone fishing in the foreground. Maybe we should keep it just the way it is, as a monument to the excesses of the Tiger years.

UPDATE 8.45pm
Turned out not to be a normal day after all. I'm still in shock at the news of Trevor's resignation as a Junior Minister. He is one of the most selfless decent people that I have met in public life. It seemed like half of Leinster House where saying to themselves "there but for the grace of God go I" when they heard the news.

As John Gormley noted earlier this evening Trevor "acted promptly and without any self interest. That is totally in keeping with his approach to politics and the contribution he has made across the past four decades."

I couldn't agree more.


Holbrook Fields said...

Nice post. Good to hear your thoughts on the events of the past few weeks. It must be tough going these days but as a GP member I hope you can continue to focus on the work that needs to be done for the long term benefit of the country.

Newff said...

Acted promptly??

It was two years ago.

Are you going to say you acted promptly regarding corruption in the CER, and Ryans cover up?

Jaysus talk about spin.

Nat King Coleslaw said...


you mention "a monument to the excesses of the Tiger years".

NAMA sounds like it's going to be a billion-euro monument.

Any comment on this from David McWilliams?


He reckons it's time to shout stop - you happen to be in a better position than most to do just this.

Clare said...

I'm sure Trevor's departure was a huge shock and, on a personal level, I hope you are coping well with the aftermath. He is a big loss to politics, although I suspect his candor both recently and in refusing to lead the Greens into coalition with FF has done a lot of good for the Greens are for politics generally.

Brian Lucey said...

you seem to have stopped talking about NAMA. I presume that you are happy with it, despite the recent revelation that among other things the Gobbimint was told by the IMF that it would not increase lending. Mind you, I and others from the academic community said that time and again, and were ignored.
The GP have for years berated, rightly, the govt for not taking heed of the planners/geographers/land economists. Now, when we have a raging banking catastrophe and the GP is in power....you ignore the domestic independent experts. What next?
Are you happy that we will grotesquely overpay for assets? Your silence implies you must be...