Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the tag “shatter”

Resignations – A question of leadership

The word ‘resignation’ has been floating about a lot in recent times. For weeks now it has followed Alan Shatter around like a shadow. The Garda Commissioner has already retired and now Angela Kerins has retired from Rehab. Of course retiring is the new resigning.

We need to look at this issue though from a leadership perspective. A resignation is not always about a legal issue. It is more often a matter of policy and a matter of perception. The Rehab situation is a case in point. It was patently obvious once the major story broke about salaries and perks that it was doing untold damage to Rehab as a charity. The longer it dragged on and the more defences that were attempted, the more damage it did. The inevitable finally happened today but is that good enough? Is that Leadership or decisiveness? Even when faced with the obvious facts it was allowed drag on until it was left in a position from which there may be no recovery.

Enda Kenny might want to take note. First of all let me make a point about people who resign. If it is obviously forced or demanded then it leaves leaders and those around them trying to distance themselves from the individual who has been effectively fired. Remember Ray Burke? Remember how Bertie Ahern said he was ‘a good man hounded from office’? You see in politics you can always blame the opposition.

However good Leadership is about ensuring a process is understood and matters are dealt with. A government has a lot of work to carry out. It must have the confidence of the public to do this. You cannot afford to have any individual damaging the reputation and work of that government. In the latest opinion poll Fine Gael has fallen back to its November levels of support. In other words, all the hard work and good news that was derived out of positive economic indicators and the exit of the bailout programme was undone by Alan Shatter. Good news is hard to come by and too many people put in too much effort for any party to see it cast aside in such a glib fashion.

Cohesion in a government is vital. Ensuring that it remains above distraction and deals with the issues on the table, that is the priority. Enda Kenny might look back at another Fine Gael Leader, John Bruton. Over the course of his tenure Bruton dealt with 3 resignations from his team. In each case the matter was dealt with in 24/36 hours. While those who resigned might not have been eager to do so, they knew the rules. Nothing could or should destabilise the government or distract it. If matters are allowed to fester they give fuel to the opposition, they anger the public and they delay proper investigation. If someone resigns there is nothing stopping them clearing their name, making their case and returning to office at a later date. That has happened before. The advantage for the Bruton government was that such matters never got as far as creating tension or upset for Labour or Democratic Left. They avoided political footballs that dragged on damaging the ratings and they avoided any contamination of the Leader or the rest of the cabinet because no rearguard defence had to be mounted, resulting in people saying things they might regret later.

Sometimes you have to think of others. Any situation must be weighed up. What damage will be done by remaining in a post? Will it lead to distraction, does it harm confidence and is it simply selfish to think that you are the only person who can do the job? Leadership is about tough decisions. Sometimes those decisions affect those closest to you. However, when you are head of a team then the good of that team must come before everything and ahead of any individual. If you don’t isolate the problem then it will surely spread.

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Callinan, Shatter and bad political choices

The resignation of Martin Callinan had become inevitable. The focus now moves to Alan Shatter who backed Callinan at every opportunity and in every action. The real irony of all this is that it’s a political crisis that should have been avoided by anyone with a modicum of political foresight.

Firstly, Alan Shatter never had any need to take the side of Martin Callinan so stringently. He could easily have been the democratically elected honest broker listening to the whistleblower concerns and ensuring they were heard while also ensuring that the views of the Garda hierarchy were known and proper procedures followed. Instead he opted to take sides and fight shoulder to shoulder with the Commissioner. Even after the Commissioner made his ‘disgusting’ comment. This now draws Shatter into a political mess he could and should have avoided.

As the issues rumbled on it became clear that people were not happy with Callinan and his remarks. The evidence did not back him up. Ministers know that eventually everything comes back to them. Leo Varadkar saw this. He was having none of it. If the Commissioner had mucked up then he was not going to taint Leo’s reputation by association. Leo did the right thing, he said straight out what needed to happen. By doing so he was saving not only himself but the public perception of the government. This in turn created a problem for the Labour party. If an FG minister was saying this then surely they, as a party seen as holding FG to account, should also be doing something. Joan Burton was quick to lead Labour through the gap. At this stage they recognised that the time for being cosy with FG was not right now. Eamon Gilmore followed too, even though he prides himself on his good relationship with Enda.

Then came the next inexplicable miscalculation. Enda Kenny had a choice. He could simply say that ‘Ministers’ have a view that will be taken into account, but that all matters would be dealt with by the Cabinet at the next meeting’. Instead Enda chose to admonish the Ministers. He said that they should only air their views at the cabinet table. That was a direct slap on the wrist. He was effectively telling them he was the boss and they were naughty children. Now, this would not bother Leo as he is playing a longer game. He can afford to smile and pass it off. However, Enda Kenny might be Taoiseach but he is not the Leader of the Labour party. In that instant he treated ministers and the Tánaiste like mere FG backbenchers to be told what to do. It was striking that within a couple of hours an experienced Minister like Quinn went out and spoke in direct defiance of Enda Kenny’s edict. The message was clear, ‘you are not the boss of us’.

While Labour Ministers may wish to spend as long as possible around the cabinet table they will not witness the disintegration of their party. Such an event will happen if backbenchers and grassroots feel an utter capitulation on their hands. Economic matters are one thing where little choice might be argued to exist, but this is another matter entirely.

Once this occurred it became impossible for Callinan not to be forced to act either in apologising or resigning. Labour now holds all the cards. Enda, through his own poor choice, has landed himself here. He now has another decision. If he wants to keep Shatter then he must assure Labour that it is worth their while. This means Labour can exact a price for their support. Whether it is reforms, legislation or budgetary measures, they have a chance now.

On the other hand Enda may decide that FG should not get compromised like that. This means that if Labour doesn’t wish to support Shatter then Enda will see him resign. This will create tension with some but it also means the crisis would be over and can move on with no baggage carrying forward to the next negotiation.

This government has a good relationship. Enda and Eamon get along very well indeed. Perhaps too well for some of their grassroots support. However, it is a salutary lesson; you can never take a good relationship for granted. Events overtake things and it’s very easy for a simple issue to spiral. Labour knows now, that at times they are taken for granted and they also know the strength the can hold if they desire to use it. It’s a small shift; the government can and should overcome it. The question is will they learn the lesson or repeat the mistake out of blindness?

Government plays same games as predecessors and has lost trust

Many people will remember the politics of the 1980’s. It was a turbulent time and one of the key issues was that of trust. Charles Haughey led the largest party but there was always a question mark over whether people could trust him or not. There was a theory that Haughey was the problem, he was what Garret Fitzgerald described as a ‘flawed pedigree’ and what Dick Spring viewed as a ‘cancer’ on the body politic.

The problem was much deeper than just Haughey though. The reason his party remained so strong was that his opponents were not trusted either. Whether that was economic trust to handle the issues or whether it was the fact that once in government people saw no real difference is a matter for debate. Des O’Malley was expelled from Fianna Fail and went on to set up the Progressive Democrats. The mood suggested the time was right for a new party. Of course like many such endeavours it had profile but no roots or organisation so its expansion, after the first wave of enthusiasm, was stunted.

Charles Haughey departed the scene and Albert Reynolds took over, but he, Alan Dukes, John Bruton and Des O’Malley all failed to capture the public imagination and all failed to win the trust of the people for different reasons.

Then came the era of Ahern, Bruton, Harney and Spring. There was a feeling that perhaps Ireland had moved on and we could trust people at the helm again. One can only wonder now if that is just symptomatic of a country when it starts to get more prosperous rather than one in recession.

Ireland has a problem. We desperately need leadership but we are struggling to trust anyone enough to follow them. We are not a belligerent people. Ireland has demonstrated a desire to be led, a willingness to take pain and tough economic measures if we can just be assured that people know what they are doing. So why is it so difficult to find that true leader?

People were burned badly by Bertie Ahern. He was a nice guy, a very ordinary unassuming chap. He was also a highly skilled politician, acknowledged by friend and foe. He did not seem into money or trappings of power, he just seemed to love what he did. In recent years that shroud of comfort has been torn away from us. A man we trusted turned out to have the most inexplicable personal finances possible and worse was to come. While we trusted him to have the measure of everyone, it seems he was really just gambling on what the guys at the top of the banks told him.

Brian Cowen was a man people felt was trustworthy too. A man who at least seemed to have none of the weight of dodgy personal finances or political funding hanging over him. He was strong and determined. Yet we then found out that he too was just going with what the bankers said, and he displayed an alarming lack of anger at where they led him. Then he crumpled up in the job of Taoiseach and lost all the vigour and ability to speak that people had liked him for.

It’s hard to keep trusting. Yet, in 2011 we gave our trust to a new government. It was seen as a final acceptance that FF and the PDs and all that was said about them was true. The Greens were collateral damage for having been seen as naive. The new government was given the greatest mandate of public trust that any government has ever held. Two years later and they would not be re-elected in the morning according to Opinion polls. This no doubt will be blamed on the ‘hard decisions’. No doubt that plays a part but the real issue is that hard decisions have double the impact when accompanied by a lack of leadership. A tax on your home is due by tomorrow, yet again people have shown they are willing to pay, but nothing in the approach of Phil Hogan has suggested to the people that they should trust him. Nothing in the approach of James Reilly has suggested that people should trust him in health and nothing in the approach of Alan Shatter will convince people that he is to be trusted either.

These were Enda Kenny’s closest aides when he was faced with a leadership challenge. Yet these are the ones letting the government down the most. There is nothing in the approach of this government to suggest that it treats issues of trust any differently to its predecessors. The same old rules are at play. The opposition do not cover themselves in glory either with FF stumbling around on the Abortion issue due to an outdated view of leadership and SF still determined to say everyone else is wrong on absolutely everything. Previous governments eroded public confidence in the system, they appeared arrogant, dismissive and concerned only with survival. Previous governments seemed obsessed with keeping their job and their colleagues in a job rather than facing up to the rights and wrongs of an issue. That is a major reason that previous governments were led to electoral Armageddon. This government had a chance to observe and learn and react differently. So what answer did they give us? Pat Rabbitte.

The government has proven itself less about leadership and more about playing the game. Less about considering the issues and more about bragging rights and forms of words. It is every bit as much about retaining power as its predecessor and in the public eye it seems remarkably similar to its predecessor in being peopled by Ministers that have no intention of having to return to their job after the next election and instead are already focussed on what legacy they might like to include in their memoirs. Trust is key. Whoever can win public trust will win big, but that will not be achieved by standing over the same old point scoring and the same lack of honesty that we have always seen. This week the government will tell us the debate on Alan Shatter is a distraction, which has always been a great defence. Like a sword of Damocles over the people, warning them that if they keep asking questions they will suffer more because the work they need done wont be done. It seems Ministers are incapable of answering questions and doing their job at the same time, they have a very limited ability and attention span. They are easily distracted and upset and we are to blame. Maybe gender quotas will be the best thing to ever happen politics here, because god knows, we really seem to lack the ability to multi task.

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