Category: Archive

Moscow news blunts ard fheis message

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

After weeks dominated by talk of “Rip-Off Republic?” dodgy prison sites, shambolic computer systems and second-rate health care, Bertie Ahern was readying to wheel out his winning combination — good old-fashioned republicanism and Finance Minister Brian Cowen. The slogan said it all: “Unity, Prosperity.”
Instead, the party’s history came back to haunt it. As news of Liam Lawlor’s untimely demise in Moscow filtered through the conference venue it became apparent that one story and one story alone would dominate the weekend’s news bulletins.
Lawlor was not simply another former Fianna Fail TD. For many he epitomized an entire era of political corruption. To have to make reference to “Lord Lucan” at ard fheis time, no matter what the context, will have been the last thing on Ahern’s wish list.
When the furor surrounding Lawlor’s passing finally subsides (having been given additional legs by the Sunday Independent’s disastrously misjudged reporting and subsequent apology), the political analysts, if not the public at large, will return to Killarney for clues as to how Fianna Fail plans to fight the next election.
The first strand was unveiled on the Friday night. Ahern announced that the annual military commemoration of Easter 1916, which was scrapped in 1970, is to make a return.
The reasoning could not be clearer. With Sinn Fein nipping at Fianna Fail’s heels in a number of vulnerable constituencies, Ahern has decided to take on Gerry Adams? party on its own ground.
With the IRA now unarmed, Ahern can safely dust off the old republican paraphernalia without having to endure claims that he is playing footsie with militancy.
He also appears ready to roll up his sleeves when it comes to unionists.
Speaking Saturday about the peace process, Ahern said: “Unionism will inevitably have to come to terms with the new fundamentals that are now emerging. We understand that this may take some time.
“But we are determined that it will not take too much time. Here, more than anywhere, we must continue to make history happen.”
He went on to say that Irish unity was not only at the heart of Fianna Fail but in the hearts of the Irish people.
The second element, obscured by the Lawlor episode and wrapped up in the “prosperity” banner, was Brian Cowen.
The finance minister, in common with his predecessor, is not the slickest media-performer. However Cowen has yet to prove that he, like Charlie McCreevy, possesses the political nous to deliver a budget that will lift Fianna Fail out of the doldrums and ensure its seats at the cabinet table.
In particular, Cowen’s proposals for spending on childcare — an issue that enrages a vast swathe of Irish voters, young and old alike — could prove key to ensuring Fianna Fail remains in government the next time out.
Cowen’s contention that he intends to abolish tax-loop-holes exploited by high-earners will also help bolster the party against accusations that it has abandoned the little man. For years high net-worth individuals have managed to avoid paying tax by sheltering their money under various tax incentives.
For example, in 2001 the Revenue Commissioners said that almost 250 Irish citizens worth between

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