When bad politicians get their comeuppance: Irish edition

Brian Cowen, current Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach, as they call the job over there), has apparently survived a confidence vote within his own party and will continue to lead Fianna Fáil, the party that has run Ireland for 53 years of its 84-year history, into the spring election.

As Miriam Lord writes for the Irish Times, that seals the fate of the party in the upcoming poll, which will probably be held in late March:

The next Cabinet meeting will be like an episode of Casualty. (Minus the lame duck, already making an unexpected and rapid recovery.) But now that the air has been cleared, Fianna Fáil is a united shambles, lurching forward with renewed confidence toward electoral oblivion.

So the plucky Taoiseach has survived a vote of confidence in himself. This means he can hold his head high and walk unaided to the political knacker’s yard in a few months’ time.

Good. Having lived in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years (I was in Dublin from 2001 to 2003), I can attest to just how ephemeral the boom seemed to me even then – and the fact that it was indeed so short-lived is entirely down to the short-sighted, wrong-headed, incompetent management of the economy by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government. People were convinced that the country’s newly-found prosperity would last forever. And perhaps it would have, had FF actually made the tough, courageous decision to invest in long-term solutions like infrastructure, rather than blowing the country’s wealth on boondoggles like the Special Savings Incentive Account scheme, which essentially gave free money to people with savings accounts.

Ireland’s boom was built entirely on a property bubble and on short-term foreign direct investment attracted by tax cuts. I remember back when I was in secondary school and my geography teacher tried to convince us that companies were coming to Ireland for its young, educated workforce. But Ireland isn’t the only country in Europe with university graduates. And tax breaks for foreign companies are not a long-term solution for growth and prosperity. As Klaus Regling and Max Watson pointed out back in May 2010:

Ireland offered more tax breaks than any other European country. These tax incentives fuelled the property bubble, and fostered wreckless lending by the banks. The banking crash could have been avoided if the Government had reigned in spending, and got rid of tax breaks during the boom.

Because of Fianna Fáil’s awful economic management, the Irish banking sector is practically, well, bankrupt. The IMF has had to come in to save the country from defaulting on its debts. Unemployment is at 14.1%. House prices fell by 35% between 2007 and 2010. The economy has contracted by more than 7% from its all-time high in 2008. Basically, it’s a disaster.

Given all that, plus the more general aura of corruption that constantly surrounds Fianna Fáil (which is basically just a wholly-owned subsidiary of the construction industry), let’s hope that there’s a change of government soon, and that the FFers will be out of power for a long, long time.


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