IT IS rare enough that you find yourself mentioning Simon Coveney, Conor Cruise O’Brien and Jean-Marie Le Pen in the same sentence, but it happened last Monday.
The trigger was Minister Coveney’s appearance on last Monday’s Six One News on RTE. He was there is his capacity as Fine Gael’s referendum campaign director.
His brief was straightforward: state the case for voting ‘Yes’ on May 31. Answer the questions you are asked, and refute the case being put forward by those trade unions advocating a ‘No’ vote.
A simple enough task for anyone even remotely familiar with the contents of the stability treaty
But not for Minister Coveney. He chose a different path. Maybe he wanted to shrug off his Bambi image — but, whatever the reason, he decided to emulate his tougher, more aggressive colleagues and indulge in a bit of revisionist political point-scoring at the opposition’s expense.
His first piece of revisionism concerned the origins of the stability treaty. According to Coveney it is necessary because the last government screwed up the economy. He thinks that we need the treaty to prevent anything similar happening in the future. Is he really that ignorant of the economic history of the past decade?
The last government made mistakes, that is acknowledged, but to attribute the need for the fiscal compact to it is an exercise in revisionism that would have made Conor Cruise O’Brien or holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen blush.
Could his highly paid advisers not have told him how Ireland was one of the few EU countries that achieved the fiscal criteria contained in the treaty in the years before the 2008 crash? Over the course of that decade, that government returned yearly budget surpluses, saved over €2bn per year and achieved the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the eurozone. Even the Unite trade union’s Jimmy Kelly, who is staunchly on the No side and no fan of the last government, had to put Coveney right on that.
To try to leverage the record unpopularity of the last government into motivating a Yes vote indicates a deeply cynical approach to politics. It is cynicism on a par with taking the credit now for the results of those policies virulently opposed only 18 months back.
Has this government run so low of criticisms of its predecessor that it forced to make some up? It seems so — and not only to get referendums passed. Kenny and Gilmore regularly congratulate themselves on rebuilding our reputation and standing in Europe, which they claim was damaged by the previous government’s disengagement with the EU.
So how do they explain the 2011 study by the University of Gothenburg showing that Ireland had, up to 2010, one of the highest levels of ministerial attendance at Council of
Ministers meetings? We came fifth out of the 27 EU countries, ahead of France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
Maybe Coveney thinks these countries have worse EU reputations than Ireland’s?
But his revisionism does not stop there. Having revised (ie, dumped) most of his own party’s pre-election promises (including his own NewEra plan, whose fanciful targets were dismissed at the time by Michael Noonan as a “PR add-on”‘), he used his Six One News appearance to rewrite Francois Hollande’s presidential manifesto.
Asked to comment on the impact of a Hollande victory on the Fiscal Stability Treaty, Minister Coveney announced that Hollande was now “back-tracking” on his commitments — a claim that was exposed as hollow within days.
Maybe someone needs to explain to him that not all political leaders across Europe follow his example and dump their election pledges upon taking office.
Last week I wrote about the two biggest weak links in this administration: Hogan and Shatter. At the time I merely viewed Coveney as a hapless passenger. His performance last Monday demonstrates that he is on the cusp of having as much claim to the title as his two colleagues.