Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

I don't want to be governed by unions or this Taoiseach

I do not want to be governed by David Begg. I am sure he is a fine fellow. He seems to be sober in his behaviour, but perhaps spends too much time talking about how the country should be run.

I don't doubt his general interest in the country's future. However, he was not elected by the people and the only mandate he has derives from ICTU of which he has been general secretary for rather longer than those we elect to govern.

In that role he represents trade unionists. This is narrowly-focused and they are a privileged and self-interested group. They would not be too happy if David Begg took on the role of helping to run the country, particularly since this involves their pay being reduced.

He is fighting against this key requirement of the State. Other trade unionists, masquerading as 'social partners' and pretending to have the broad public interest as their first priority, when clearly it is not, are in the same position.

Unions are suspect, and the social partnership they flaunt before us is the wrong way forward. It has, from time to time, had its uses but currently is inadequate to the task. It has no statutory power. It espouses consensus when strict, stern authority is what is needed.

I do not want to be governed by Turlough O'Sullivan either. I am sure that he has qualities parallel to those of David Begg. His mandate is much narrower, though he does represent the power to hire and fire across the country.

I particularly do not want to be governed by Tom Parlon, who, when his political career collapsed, jumped from public works into the Construction Industry Federation as its director general. There was a conflict of interest here. In a better-run country, it would not have been allowed.

He thinks social partnership is an 'out-again-in-again' process. When the terms were not to his liking, he did not participate; when they improved, he wanted in again. Such is the absurdity and lack of procedure in the social partnership, that this seemed acceptable to the other partners.

Most of all, I do not want to be governed by Brian Cowen. With him, the reasons are different, but not all that different. The correct operation of democracy has been strongly demonstrated from across the Atlantic, where Barack Obama created and explained his policy and, in the interests of unity, sought Republican support for his crisis programme. He failed. He proceeded to the next constitutional step, which was to get majority voting support. He still seeks co-operation from Republicans in the Senate.
Meanwhile, his programme goes forward. It is his and not the muddled consensus of the unelected.
Brian Cowen has no programme and does the opposite, his actions perverse and unconstitutional. They are not on the table, still less explained to the public or Dail. Instead, he tells them in private.
They tell him what they want. He takes that on board.

He governs -- if that is the right word -- by possibilities, runs thoughts and ideas in front of unelected men and women. Constitutionally, it is quite wrong.

Unlike Obama, Cowen has no plan. He has not had a plan since he started, nor did he have one as Finance Minister. He is waiting for the social partners to give him one. He is afraid to make hard decisions. The result is bad decisions. His political career in the eight months since he became Taoiseach has been a long catalogue of blundering errors of judgment about the level of crisis we face.

The present social partnership fiasco is bad and runs in the face of the proper constitutional handling of government. But worse still, if some kind of deal emerges, it will seriously prejudice the future because part of the package will inevitably be based on excessive expectations and predictions about our recovery. As a result, the growing crisis will have to be referred back to the same fiasco merchants.

He has treated with absolute disdain the public representatives on the other side of the house. They were elected by our democratic system to engage in the necessary business of opposition and to be ready to take power when the opportunity presents itself. He has not informed them, not dis
His political career since he became Taoiseach has been a long catalogue of blundering errors of judgment about the level of crisis we face cussed the situation with them. Instead, he engages in cheap jibes and is aped in this by his ministers.

This behaviour is an abuse of power. The Green Party support Mr Cowen in this. Their support comes with a wooden disregard for the realities facing the country. One of the silliest phrases to have emerged from the Green Party is John Gormley's repeated commitment to be in government for 'the long haul'.

There is no long haul. If he were a truck driver he would at least be travelling along a road from one place to another, hopefully with a load of produce to deliver and a reasonable knowledge of the road map. Because of Mr Cowen's inability to make any decisions, that road map does not exist. Soon enough, the truck in which Mr Gormley is engaged in 'the long haul' will be empty.

If, by the long haul, John Gormley means Green Party objectives, then he is acting unconstitutionally. As a sworn member of the Government his duties are no longer to seek separate party objectives but to work for the national interest. Hard as this may be to define, it is enough to make a complete nonsense of his position.