Tag Archive for Vincent Browne

Finding the right target in Enda’s blame game

Let me say this to you all:

You are not responsible for the crisis.

That didn’t last long, did it?

Yesterday Enda did another of his patented u-turns (don’t worry, they’re all part of his five-point plan) and blamed the Irish people for going “mad” on cheap credit.

How can he possibly blame us, the plain people of Ireland?

Surely the fault lies with the bankers, right?

Wrong.

Nothing will be learned from this financial crisis unless we learn why it happened, who was to blame, and how to stop it happening in the future.

The bankers and reckless lenders are obvious targets, but we had failed long before we ever got on the playing field.

The responsibility for the crisis lies almost exclusively with those tasked with regulating and monitoring the affairs of the state- the politicians.

Let us remember that it wasn’t just Fianna Fáil that were responsible either- the free-market zealots of the Progressive Democrats, Fine Gael and the Labour Party (don’t be fooled by the name) were equally to blame.

Even when in opposition, they nodded like donkeys as Aherne, McCreevy and Cowen stripped away the protection the plain people of Ireland were entitled to.

So Enda is hardly going to sit up there in the middle of his Davos dancing monkey act and admit that he was partially to blame now, is he?

It is absolutely true that people borrowed wildly and that banks lent recklessly, and some would say who could blame them. Both were trying to live the dream of a lifestyle and profits beyond their wildest dreams.

But how could they do this? Because, ever since the first sod was turned at the IFSC, every single piece of legislation or regulation preventing them from taking excessive risks with borrowed money was removed by the politicians.

It may have changed in the last three years or so as normal people were forced to learn about bond yields and sovreign debt, but the plain truth is that most people are not financially literate enough to understand even basic financial products like mortgages and life insurance.

I’ve spent the guts of ten years in the financial services industry, talking to ministers and central bankers and traders and fund managers. I’ve studied finacial instruments trading at university level.

All it has taught me is that the more I learn, the more there is to learn.

Those operating in the markets- even in the personal finance end of them-  are for the most part unsentimental, mathematical and very ambitious.

They will stretch the limit of any rule in search of a profit- that is their creative genius.

But in removing the rules of the game, we allowed them to indulge themselves and us, and we all got hit with the bill.

We even tore up most of our planning laws just so we could allow developers to stack their piles of yen and German pensions on one another in a race to the top, not realising it would all fall down around us.

Sure, lenders and borrowers are to blame, but only to a point; if you give the fox the keys of the henhouse, don’t be surprised if all that’s left are feathers and blood.

What galls most people is that no banker or politician has yet to face the courts in relation to the €100 billion confidence trick played on Irish people.

The sad reason for this is that very little of what was done was illegal- we simply removed those barriers and let them get on with it.

And so to the hide-and-seek champion of Mayo, who did his monkey dance for the great and the good at Davos yesterday, a day after many of them took their chunk of the €1.25 billion Enda so selflessly gave them on our behalf.

And today, ministers gather round to defend him- even Labour ministers – saying that he was either partially or wholly right.

They were joined, predictably, by the Irish Independent and Newstalk, whose overlord Denis O’Brien insisted to the Irish Times that “he (Kenny) should be applauded and not in any way criticised.”

His minions duly obliged, Fionán Sheehan of the Indo playing the role of government representative on Vincent Browne last night, and the Lunchtime program on Newstalk offering an embarrassing plethora of talking heads echoing the Taoiseach’s comments.

The level of stage management of the cabinet response warrants closer questioning- in other words, there is reason to believe that Enda’s comments were no regular political gaffe.

There is reason to believe that what you saw and heard yesterday is the first step in selling the next- and probably the most onerous- austerity budget to the Irish people.

In December, Enda went of the TV to pre-empt a public outcry and in a stilted performance, his hear slicked to his head, he told us we were not responsible. Gullible fools that we were, we bought into the savage cuts – sure weren’t we all in it together?

That won’t work again, and the next targets – the old, the sick, and the young once more, but also the public servants and PAYE workers – won’t be as amenable, so a change of tactics was called for.

So Enda and his cabinet have decided that we are in fact to blame – and in doing so, they are preparing us to take our personal share of the pain that is coming. After all, it’s our fault that we’re in this mess.

What Enda should have said yesterday was “yes, the banks and the borrowers were to blame, but we- the democratically elected politicians, dropped the ball. Lads, the party is over. Europe’s biggest casino will be back, but there will be limits on how much you can gamble with our money in the future”.

Instead, he blamed you and me.

At the same time, the treacherous Fianna Fáil spiv that is Conor Lenihan appeared on the radio, blissfully unaware of the scale of his own hypocrisy.

Part of a dynasty that did its best to destroy our economy, he is now travelling the world touting for foreing direct investment.

For Russia.

Now some people might say that ‘traitor’ is too strong a word in those circumstances.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.

Et tu Mary? Then fall, Seanie

One of these men has some serious skeletons in his closet. The other is Martin McGuinness.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons that people like reading this blog is the fact that I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong.

And boy, was I wrong about the Frontline presidential debate on RTE.

Perhaps I was suffering election fatigue when I sat down to watch it, but I think I can be forgiven for saying that I was expecting the same non-answers to the same irrelevant questions.

What followed, of course, was two hours of the most gripping television in the history of Irish broadcasting as Gallagher stumbled badly on the home straight, and, sensing weakness, Michael D moved to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In the bitterst of ironies, it was Martin McGuinness- no stranger to a bit of cavalier fund-raising himself – who held the smoking gun.

He had spoken to someone who had handed over a cheque for Fianna Fáil to the value of five thousand euro to Seán Gallagher, in return for his dinner and a picture with Brian Cowen.

Never has something that sounds so unappealing cost so much.

It cost the donor five grand.

It may have cost Gallagher the presidency.

The rest of the candidates, who until that point had failed to find a foothold on the Mount Rushmore-like face of Gallagher’s entrepreneurial stoicism, gleefully queued up to twist the knife.

Even Mary Davis – the candidate most likely to be accused of kicking a man whilst he’s down – got her digs in and has called on Gallagher to come clean or suffer the wrath of the people.

She has done little in this campaign, but this late intervention may just turn the tide.

In another bitter irony, Gallagher’s problem is very similar to that of his prime adversary McGuinness.

Both have shady political pasts that they would wish to forget, or at least cast in a totally different light to what anyone else remembers.

Neither can afford the luxury of condemning their supporters in the shadows (McGuinness in the IRA, Gallagher’s in FF).

Gallagher’s problem, like McGuinness, is that when he denies his past, he loses all credibility. Instead of prostating himself before the electorate and begging their forgiveness, he left himself open to being caught out.

Gallagher could have been the first of the new FF breed, accepting both his own past and the wrongs of the Galway tent but promising to usher in a new era of politics.

Instead, he chose to minimise his part in FF, thus creating a hostage to fortune that, in the media climate of this campaign, wasn’t likely to stay chained to a radiator for long.

Like the banks of the Dodder, the floodgates have finally opened, and a much more damaging allegation is that he took payments form GAA clubs to secure funding.

As most people know, the GAA is an amateur organisation kept running by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, none of whom will be too enamoured at this prospect.

Add to this his seemingly odd (but seemingly legitimate) business transactions and we are witnessing a death by a thousand cuts.

I have written several times over the last few weeks that there was one major twist left in this race, but I don’t think that anyone in their wildest dreams could have imagined it would be a game-changer like this one. Not even Michael D.

At 1400 Irish time tomorrow the utterly ludicrous broadcast ban kicks in and the public pronouncements of the candidates will be effectively finished.

That means Gallagher has about 16 hours to save his campaign track or risk becoming the second candidate to throw this election away despite seemingly having it in the bag.

I have no doubt about the brilliance of his backroom team (some of them trained me in public relations) – the question is whether they can save him in time.

Watch this space.

Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned

Politics is often nothing more than the art of being able to say “I told you so”, no matter what the outcome.

There was “Straight Talkin’” Pat Rabbitte on Vincent Browne this evening, giving it large about how we couldn’t possibly burn the bondholders, or anyone else who wasn’t working class, poor, young, old  or infirm.

Of course, just a few short weeks ago he and Eamon Gilmore were promising us “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”. I think we all know how that turned out – at the first sign of a cabinet post Labour’s bluster was gone with the wind.

Fine Gael weren’t far behind them, and the Hide and Seek Champion of Mayo is dodging all talk of burden-sharing. You’d swear there was never a five-point plan at all.

Besides, it’s too late now. As pointed out before the election, a vote for FG or a vote for Labour was a tacit acceptance that the bank debt was ours to bear. No point whining about now, unless we’re seriously prepared to do something about it.

And then populist Pat, suffering under the barrage from Browne and Mary-Lou McDonald, turned his ire on the CEO of ESB, who apparently earns €750,000 a year.

Rabbitte, struggling to get some points on the board, honorably went ahead and attacked a man not there to defend himself.

He even went as far as to open public negotiations with his successor – whoever that may be – by saying that the new person in the position won’t get anywhere near that.

I don’t think you’re the best man to judge that Pat, just as you couldn’t be telling anyone at AIB what they can earn.

You’ll be forced to pay whatever the market demands for a competent person to run a national power company. And if you decide to pay peanuts, you’ll simply end up adding to the abundance of monkeys running – and ruining – Irish public life.

For this is what the free market does. Based on all available information it sets a price, and then it’s up to you to pay it – otherwise someone else will.

Which is exactly why the ESB shouldn’t be sold off just yet, if it is ever to be sold off at all.

The markets are well aware that we have no arse in our trousers and that we are in no position to negotiate; even if we were, we lack people capable of doing so. Thus, we would get nowhere near the real market value for the asset.

The second reason for not selling it off is competitiveness. The CEO of the newly-privatised Irish electricity company would set about justifying his massive new salary by generating massive profits for the new owners- at the expense of the households and small businesses, at a time when they can least afford it.

They have neither the mandate nor the interest in helping the country recover- they are simply interested in profit.

It’s the way the free market works Pat, and the longer you sit on the benches with Fine Gael, the more you’ll find out about it, and the more you’ll have to sit beside Vincent and defend actions that you would never in your wildest dreams have countenanced when you were on the opposition benches.

Irish Politicians – Networking Or Not Working?

Open the papers, turn on the TV or check out your favourite blog, and the message is the same – this is Ireland’s first social media election, and commentators are queueing up to tell us how important Twitter and Facebook are going to be. But will the iPhone and the Android make a big difference at the ballot box? WIll the independents tweet their way into the Dáil? Will Enda’s ridiculous e-valentine force the electorate to fall out of love with him?

The answer is – probably not. Social media is becoming more and more important, but except in very limited circumstances it’s not going to make a difference.

The reason is simple -it’s a medium, not a message. Enda’s beloved five-point plan is still a five-point plan wheter it’s the subject of a Facebook group, a blog, a tweet  or one of those appalling campaign videos that are fast becoming the trademark of Fine Gael.

No matter where Gerry and Pearse go, they will still have to deal with questions about Sinn Féin’s bona fides on the economy.

And whether it’s a webcast or News at One, a viral video or a LinkedIn group message, Mícheál Martin still ruined the country (it appears that even he has been destroyed by the HSE, as setting it up seems to have given him amnesia). No amount of tweeting (even as gaeilge) will change that.

Social media is only useful in terms of spreading ideas – it does not create them, and as yet there is still a marked absence of big ideas in the campaign to date. The parties are still skirting each other like teenagers at a disco under the watchful eye of the ECB chaperones, but Twitter will not come up with an answer to the bank bailout disaster by itself, no more than it can ask the pretty socialist by the far wall up to dance for you.

But what social media will do is level the playing field. A Twitter account, a blog and a website cost next to nothing, and a PR person recently told me that a Facebook page is actually more valuable than a bespoke website these days. These simple tools combined with the few hours of donkey work involved in reaching out to various networks can help candidates at the lower end of the campaign financing ladder to even out the discrepancies.

I’ve been impressed so far by the likes of Kate Bopp and Michael Loftus, and less so by the main parties, for one simple reason – the independents are managing to come across as much more human than the auto-generated, knee-jerk trash being spouted via the communications departments of the major parties.

Whilst Kate is linking to audio recordings of debates and Michael is using Twitter to build a network, it is frankly embarrassing to see the strategies being used by some of the people at HQs who really should know better – canvassers breathlessly retweeting “great reaction on the doorsteps tonight, voters srsly concerned about quality of silage in West Cavan” when in fact no-one mentioned it at all.

The debates are even worse. It wouldn’t surprise me if FG had people lined up to tweet “thought Kenny did well there”, even for the TV3 debate that he didn’t show up for. The affirmation of the leader and the manifesto in 140 characters or less has become the new “we are where we are”.

Social media users see through this formulaic rubbish, and the Fianna Fáil canvasser who has the guts to tweet “got handed my arse by a single parent about USC tonight, and rightly so” will most likely win their candidate a damn sight more votes than our silage-loving canvasser mentioned above. Despite the possibility of anonymity, honesty is paramount in the not-so-brave new world of Twitter and Facebook – everything else is just anti-social media.

Those involved in the media in general are never slow to overestimate their own importance, but the truth is that very few commentators have any actual sway at all. The likes of Constantine Gurgdiev, David McWilliams and Miriam O’Callaghan have the capacity to reach a vast number of people, but for most tweeters the reach is limited and the effect equally so.

And yet one of the few growth industries in Ireland during this election has been that of social media commentator; but whilst it is interesting to hear what others are saying, it’s far from scientific and definitely not representative. Vincent Browne starts every show by mentioning the blog, the text line, the hash tag and the e-mail address, but the only thing that ever gets mentioned are a couple of tweets by Colm Tobin (not the novellist) before he looks at the headlines in tomorrow’s papers (Vincent, not Colm).

This election will not be decided by social media, no more than it will be decided in Brussels or Frankfurt. This election will be decided in the think tanks at the HQs of the major political parties – the party that comes up with the creative solutions to solve this country’s problems and the cojones to implement them will win the day. Those that don’t risk being wiped out, their places taken by independent candidates providing a fresh voice, if nothing else.

So far, we still haven’t seen any big ideas, on Twitter or anywhere else. And time is running out.

Note: Non-Twitter users can follow the Twitter activity of many candidates in #ge11 on http://www.politweets.ie