Baron Wince, Tara and the lords of incompetence

Sunday Tribune 16 August

Tenner for the first person who guesses what ‘Carbon Wine’, ‘Brace In Now!’ and ‘Bare Cow Inn’ have in common. My travelling companions didn’t make the connection. One threatened to connect his fist with my gob if I didn’t shut up, though.
On Tuesday we headed to Tullamore for a lads’ night out with a friend who has swapped the Liffey for Offaly (he’s a ‘Liffo’). I spent the journey shouting out stupid anagrams of people’s names to irritate the other passengers. I can be really, really, really annoying when I’m bored.
Brian Cowen’s name is stuffed with good anagrams, like the ones above, but I discovered one that describes him perfectly. It’s ‘Baron Wince’. You know the way you wince at your bills these days? That’s down to Baron Wince – Ireland’s Lord of Pain.
We headed to the Baron’s local, the Brewery Tap, because I wanted to ask him what he knows about bi-location – being in two places at once. Noel Dempsey got me wondering about this last week as he defended the latest news from Tara. The Baron wasn’t about, so my question had to wait. (We’ll return to it later.)
The news from Tara is that we will have to compensate the operators of the M3 if the number of cars using it falls below a target agreed by the state. So what’s that target? Don’t ask the National Roads Authority. It would only say last week that it was “competitive”.
Don’t ask Dempsey either. Newstalk’s Eamon Keane asked him if the public will ever be told. Not if it’s commercially sensitive, he replied, adding “what we WILL know is if the target is NOT reached”. So there you have it. How many cars make the M3 viable? Answer: mind your own business.
Even after all the crookedness Fianna Fáil has displayed towards Tara, this latest revelation stopped me in my tracks. What next? Are they planning to sell the rights to Tara’s name, like The Point did to 02? Will we see ‘Welcome to The Hill of Eurolink’ as we approach Tara? It wouldn’t surprise me.
The M3 scandal embodies all that is wrong with Irish politics: greed, wastefulness, ignorance and a total disregard for democracy. Nobody wanted it in Tara/Skryne bar Fianna Fáil, which was so eager to destroy the valley that it paid almost €69,000 an acre for it. So eager, that it bulldozed the national monument at Lismullen, sparking an expensive European Court case. If/when we lose, we could be ordered to do a new environmental impact study and go back to scratch on the site.
Unesco may also order the road to be moved if it deems Tara a World Heritage Site. Environment minister John Gormley is afraid of this so he delayed presenting it for consideration. The obvious thing to do now is halt the M3 pending Unesco and the court’s decisions. ‘Green’ Gormley, however, is hell-bent on completing a motorway that is destroying a heritage site, may have to be moved and may not prove viable.
A shortfall is highly likely. Last April it was predicted that almost 23,000 vehicles would use the M3 daily when it opens next July. Those numbers need to be readjusted because of the recession. Last month, Meath experienced the largest increase in people signing on – an extra 17,000 people, or 4%. That means a lot of cars off the road until the gloom recedes. On top of that, the remaining workforce won’t want to pay €11.20-a-day in tolls when the rail service to Navan opens. Incidentally, neither Dempsey nor Gormley will have to pay the tolls – ministerial cars are exempt.
The pair’s record with sums is appalling: last year Dempsey spent €70,000 on a new logo for Transport 21. The existing one had been developed in-house… for free. At around the same time, Gormley spent €15m on a climate change advertising campaign and only €5m on the Warmer Homes Scheme.
Two men, two things in common: the M3 and financial incompetence.
Remember I wanted to ask Brian Cowen about bi-location? The M3 bail-out has made it theoretically possible for me to be in two places at once – driving through Meath while at home in Dublin. Here’s my question: why should I pay a toll on a road I don’t want, will never use, in a county I don’t live in, to a foreign consortium – for the next 45 years?
Fianna Fáil has secretly shackled us to a road that’s in the wrong place. It agreed to underwrite a bad development that was in trouble from the start. How many other similar deals has it done? After this, how can we trust its judgment on Nama?
Last week, the Greens made noises about holding a convention on Nama. Under party rules, Gormley and Co can be ordered to vote it down, effectively ending the coalition.
Here’s another question about location: where were the Greens’ grass roots when the rest of us were discussing Nama? Why have they suddenly discovered their voices when the Dáil is on holidays? Are they serious or just posing?
Considering the Greens’ hypocrisy to date, another two-word anagram comes to mind. It’s of ‘T-a-r-a’ and is normally preceded by “I smell…”
It’s also always associated with sinking ships, Mr Gormley.


Greens have sacrificed principles for the illusion of power

Sunday Tribune 10 May

What’s that sound? Is it the thunder of hooves just over the next ridge? Hurray! It’s George Lee leading the cavalry (he’s the one on a Segway) to rescue us from the dole queue. Hip, hip, hurray etc, etc.
No matter how you look at it, Fine Gael has floored Fianna Fáil with its choice of candidate for the Dublin South by-election on 5 June. George ticks all the boxes: he’s sincere, popular and knowledgable. With the exception of FF, the announcement was loudly applauded. Too loudly. The reaction bordered on mild hysteria. George, while being very, very good at maths, has no political track record. He might be rubbish. Still, it said a lot about where we, the electorate, are at emotionally.
Lee’s decision may turn out to be a missed opportunity. Many would like to see a new party enter the fray. With George’s financial acumen bolstered by a couple of seasoned dissidents, we could have seen the birth of the George Lee Party. (‘George Lee’ and ‘party’: there’s three words you don’t see together too often.) In time, it might have become known as the Glee Party – ‘Spreading the message of gloom with Glee’. Now we’ll never know.
While George was throwing shapes over the economy, another man of principle, Eddie Hobbs, reminded us of Fianna Fáil’s culture of hard-necked cronyism. Hobbs resigned in protest from the National Consumer Association on Thursday. He had called for Bertie Ahern’s ‘ex’, Celia Larkin, to step down over the revelation that she was fast-tracked for a mortgage by Michael Fingleton. True to FF form, she refused.
The two ‘people’s economists’ aren’t the only men of principle taking pot-shots at Fianna Fáil. The Greens are at it too. The first rumblings between the Saviours of the Earth and Fianna Fáil came over the TDs’ bonuses debacle. Then John Gormley announced the scrapping of electronic voting, despite a Cabinet decision to defer it. Last Wednesday, Eamon Ryan really stuck the boot in. He told Newstalk’s Eamon Keane that he wouldn’t recommend Green voters give their transfers to Fianna Fáil in the upcoming local elections. He also said the Greens would be open to doing business with Fine Gael/Labour in a possible National Government. Principled Ryan spoke of “values”. He didn’t mention loyalty to his government partners, though.
FF played down Ryan’s disloyalty and revealed its grand by-election plan to defeat George Lee. It has chosen the late Seamus Brennan’s son, Shay, to run against him. Fine Gael is putting up a trusted economist, while FF is relying on sentiment. Economies are not saved by sentiment.
To compound the impression that Fianna Fáil is entirely clueless, Brian Lenihan said, disingenuously, that the three sets of elections on 5 June don’t constitute “a referendum”. This is rubbish. Fianna Fáil will be tested across the entire voting spectrum: local, by-elections and European. The outcome will reflect the public mood: 384,000 unemployed people are looking forward to letting him and his colleagues know how we feel. You only have to look at the election posters to see FF is really worried: the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ are microscopic. It’s like they’re trying to distance themselves from themselves.
Ryan’s comments, too, were designed to distance the Greens from them in the run-up to the elections. The question is: What will the Greens do when the elections are over? If Ryan was disloyal last week, imagine what he’ll be like when FF is really down.
There’s revolution in the air. The public is subconsciously preparing for a new government. As Seán O’Rourke was grilling Lee on Tuesday’s News at One, the speculation wasn’t whether he would win the seat, but what portfolio he would get in the next cabinet. Lee had leaped that hurdle and was already in a new Fine Gael-led government in the public’s mind.
The Greens realise this and that they face annihilation in a general election. They need to start building bridges, which may be why Ryan spoke about doing business with Fine Gael on Newstalk. This double talk, however, is giving weight to ex-Green Patricia McKenna’s assertion that they are hypocrites who have sold out.
George Lee has sacrificed his power as a commentator to follow his principles. The Greens have sacrificed their principles for the illusion of power. Their weasly behaviour is at odds with the image of a party with lofty ideals. They used to stand for integrity and plain-speaking. It’s taken them just two years to learn how to speak like Fianna Fáil. They are still politically immature though. Trying to be Machiavellian doesn’t suit them and is, frankly, a bit embarassing. It’s like watching the class nerd trying to act tough.
The response to Lee’s candidacy has shown that, psychologically, we are already on a general election footing. By failing to strongly endorse their partners now, the Greens are effectively undermining them. They are hinting that they’re having doubts. If they don’t act upon these doubts, they are finished as a party. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing.
The Greens can still show they have some principles left. They should jump ship now, before it’s too late, and nail their colours to a National Government mast.
It’s either that, or get nailed by a seething electorate.