Taoiseach returns to face NAMA challenge

Brian Cowen chose his home base of Tullamore to re-engage with the public, via the media, following the August break.

In a robust performance, the Taoiseach said he was confident that the Government would get sufficient Dail support to pass the proposed legislation setting up the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

But he was pragmatic enough to leave the door open to "appropriate'' amendments from the Green Party and other sources.

The Taoiseach, who was attending the Fleadh Cheoil, was speaking in the aftermath of Enda Kenny's announcement in his native Mayo that Fine Gael would be opposing the setting up of NAMA.

Kenny claimed that NAMA was fundamentally unfair.

"It transfers responsibility for dealing with toxic loans from the banks who made them, and the investors who funded them, to the Irish taxpayer,'' said the Fine Gael leader.

He went on to say that it was a "double or quits'' gamble by Fianna Fail.

Fine Gael, said Kenny, wanted the setting up of a "good bank" with a credit facility of up to 20 billion, called the National Recovery Bank.

The existing banks, he said, would be restructured to place the risk with the shareholders and bondholders.

The Taoiseach dismissed what he called Fine Gael's "glib one-liners'', declaring that NAMA was being established on the best international advice, including the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

He added that the Government was undertaking the project in consultation with the European Central Bank.

The truth, of course, is that nobody really knows the exact formula to rescue us from the current economic nightmare.

That said, the Opposition parties are entitled to take whatever approach they perceive to be the right one.

In fact, the Opposition's dismissal of NAMA could provoke an all-important public debate on the issue.

In crude political terms it is a case of the Government versus the rest in the Dail.

The Dail debate on NAMA will take place when the House returns from its long summer recess on September 16th.

Hopefully, there will be a minimum of political point-scoring during that debate and that the emphasis will be on what course of action is best for the country.

The current Dail arithmetic suggests a tie of 82-82, with the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle available to the Government.

In such circumstances, obviously the the Ceann Comhairle's vote would save the Government.

But, realistically, could it come to that ?

What would be the fall-out for a Jimmy Devins or an Eamon Scanlon, or any backbencher, if they voted against a Fianna Fail-led Government and caused an embarrassing situation whereby it was saved by the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle?

The blunt reality is that, unless Fianna Fail was in freefall, they would, in political terms, be dead in the water back home in their constituencies.

Fianna Fail is not as powerful and tight-knit an organisation as it used to be.

No political party is. The era of the blind loyalty to leader and party is over.

We live in turbulent and questioning times.

That said, the Fianna Fail organisation would look with horror on any party TD who would walk through the voting lobby with the Opposition in a Dail vote.

So the real threat, right now, to the Government's longevity is from the Greens rank and file.

If the smaller party's grassroots muster the numbers to instruct the Green Ministers to oppose NAMA, then it is all over.

However, the likelihood of that happening does not appear to be great.

The Greens know that if there was an election now they would be trounced. Indeed, they would probably face a wipe-out.

If the Government gets NAMA through the Dail, wins the Lisbon Treaty referendum, and introduces the December Budget, then it could have a chance of surviving long-term.

But there are many "ifs" and imponderables confronting this Government.

If it can convince the public that it is capable of being tough but fair, as well as incisive, then it just might get some kind of reprieve from voters.

Right now, there is huge anger, and the possibility of civil unrest, among voters.

Mary Robinson summed it up at the weekend when she spoke at the annual Michael Collins commemoration in west Cork.

She said that some believed the challenges were greater than any since the State came into being almost 90 years ago.

She added: "Somebody looking in at us from the outside would be entitled to think that most of the news coming out of Ireland in recent times has been very negative.

"The international banking crisis has hit us proportionately harder than other developed countries.

"The gap between national income and national revenue is a yawning one. And the findings of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children, particularly in residential homes run by religious orders, has shocked and appalled people.''

She said that taken individually any one of those challenges would be formidable.

"Coming all at once, they require immense determination to ensure that we meet them successfully,'' said the former President.

However, she said, it was not all bad news from Ireland.

"We have achieved something in recent years which many thought unattainable: peace on our island,'' she added.

"That is no small thing, especially when we look back in our history.''

She went on to warn against romanticising the times Michael Collins lived in.

"They were terrible times," she said. "Killings and reprisals were the norm.''


We should not erase, and certainly not attempt to glorify, the dark side of our past.

We have much to be proud of. But we have also much to be ashamed about. And we should be mature enough to recognise that.

Can the same level of dogged commitment, which brought peace to the North, be applied in sorting out our current economic mess ?

Brian Cowen and his Government must show the kind of leadership which has been absent up to now.

The old ways will not work. Why, for instance, is it taking this Government so long to reform the Oireachtas ?

In recent times, there have been some embarrassing revelations about the level of spending on travel and hotels by some Ministers in the last Government.

All that has to stop if the political establishment generally, and the Government specifically, is to regain the trust of the people.

The Taoiseach must get his Government to move up a gear and introduce the policies necessary to rescue us from our current wretched state.

He must face down backbenchers and pressure groups.

Time is not on his side.

Mary Robinson said at the weekend that there was no easy way out of our predicament.

Example, she said, should come from the top, with those who could afford most giving most.

The fallout from the McCarthy report has shown that some at the top are not prepared to make the level of sacrifices demanded of them.

Indeed some of the debate has shown an extraordinary failure to recognise the scale of the problems on the part of some.

That kind of living in cloud cuckoo land also has to come to an end.


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