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Storm Clouds brew - Leinster Express Political Notebook

The weather remains a grim metaphor for the state of the country.

An economic tsunami and now a weather tsunami! Grim indeed!

So far, it seems as if the Government is handling the flooding crisis reasonably well. Fifteen million euro was allocated for immediate relief. But a much bigger job remains to be done.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has made the valid point that the granting of planning permission on flood plains in the past has contributed to houses being flooded.

It will be a measure of the Government’s competence in its remaining time in office to see how it comes to terms with this latest social and economic challenge.

Time will tell. There are recent disturbing signs that this Government is going the way of the previous administrations that brought the country to its knees through downright opportunism, giving into interest groups, and keeping an excessive eye to what would win them the next general election.

The handling of the pylon controversy by Mr Kenny had echoes of the Bertie Ahern era which was marked by a self-serving attempt to appease all interest groups in a cynical attempt to remain in power for as long as possible.

It was the kind of politics strongly criticised by Mr Kenny and the current Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, from the Opposition benches.

The scale of the opposition from communities to EirGrid’s pylon proposals throughout the country should not be underestimated.

There was a lack of consultation and a failure to appreciate the concerns of people.

Then the Minister for Energy, Pat Rabbitte, set up an expert committee to review those concerns, and the underground versus overground argument. This was something that should have been done a long time ago.

The timing had all the hallmarks of pushing the issue beyond next May’s European and local elections. It was exactly the kind of stunt pulled in the bad old days of the Celtic Tiger.

The Minister made it clear that the North-South interconnector would not be included in the review. The application of planning permission in the Republic was believed to be imminent.

However, after Mr Kenny met some of his Fine Gael backbenchers, he pulled the carpet from under Mr Rabbitte and abandoned a Cabinet agreement that the North-South project would be excluded.

The Taoiseach went into the Dail and said he would like the expert group to include a review of the interconnector. He had bowed to backbench pressure.

This was right from the political school of making it up as you go along. Mr Ahern excelled at it in his time. The Irish people continue to pay a terrible price for such folly.

The Government’s stunt may well backfire. Some of those campaigning against the pylons are quite cynical about the move.

Fine Gael and Labour could lose votes rather than gain them in the fallout from Mr Kenny’s crude emulation of the Ahern ways.

Similarly, with Irish Water, the Government’s continuing dismissal of overstaffing is reminiscent of the reservations expressed when the disastrous HSE was set up.

Professor John FitzGerald, of the Economic and Social Research Institute said the staff of 4,300 in the company was far in excess of the 1,700 employees necessary to run it.

He estimated that the additional costs with overstaffing would be 2 billion euro. That is a lot of money for a country on its economic knees.

Indeed it would be a lot of money if the country was doing well.

It was ironic that the Government came out to challenge Professor FitzGerald’s figures. In doing so, they could inevitably be accused of questioning his competence.

Yet the same Professor FitzGerald was appointed by the Government to the expert panel to review the pylons.

Surely if he was good enough for that important review group, he should have received a better hearing on Irish Water staffing?

After all, unlike the Government, he has no agenda on the issue.

The Opposition scent political blood. Fianna Fail is hoping to make hay on the issue. Likewise, with Sinn Fein.

One thing is sure: the storm clouds are gathering for this Government.

 

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