The confessions of Ahern and Cowen

Interesting development over the weekend with Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen both – finally – accepting it wasn’t all the fault of those crafty Lehman Brothers. I meant to get round to a blog post on it earlier but have been snowed under.

It’s fairly little and way too late but… something. Something tiny but something.

Harry McGee has a strong post on the Taoiseach’s speech which I’d encourage you to read. Ahern’s mea cupla hasn’t got quite as much coverage. The Irish Times report by Stephen Collins and Mary Minihan puts it concisely…

Mr Ahern said he agreed with everything in the speech Taoiseach Brian Cowen delivered at Dublin City University on Thursday night.

“Even the self-criticisms in it I accept also, which was mainly the tax incentives,” Mr Ahern said, when asked about the issue at the launch of the Aviva stadium in Dublin.

“We probably should have closed those down a good bit earlier but there were always fierce pressures, there was endless pressures to keep them. There was endless pressures to extend them,” he said.

He said the pressure had come from developers, owners of sites, areas that didn’t have the developments, community councils, politicians and civic society.

The tax incentives he refers to, I’m guessing, are section 23s  on residential property and the tax reliefs on hotel developments which were kept open due to lobbying from developers. The hotel incentives were due to close in 2002 but were held open resulting in a flood of developments in late 2004, the consequence of which is the mess of a hotel and development market we have today.

Ahern’s statements are a pretty clear acceptance that Fianna Fáil donors had massive influence on Government policy during the boom years.

What’s perhaps more startling is Martin Mansergh’s admission on The Saturday View that the influence remains today. Mansergh was on with Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan and Mark Hennessey of The Irish Times.

He said…

I’m not at all sure we’ve internalised the lessons. I mean, if a property developer comes up to, you know, Charlie’s party or my party with a proposal that will create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs… will we look sufficiently – with sufficient care and scrutiny – at the sustainability and viability of it?

[…] We’re going to have to learn to say no. No to lobby groups, to vested groups. [We’re going have to learn] To stand up to people who say if you don’t this or you don’t do that, we won’t vote for you, you’ll lose your seat. There’s an awful lot of that. We’re going to have to become much tougher than we have been in the habit of being… and that applies to all parties.

“NAMA, Anglo… NAMA, Anglo” was spinning through my mind as he said that. I’m kinda surprised there has been no follow-up. Tabloid fodder.

Gotta agree though, it does apply to all parties. Bar, perhaps, the Greens. I wrote about donations reform last week, if you’re interested. Much needed.

A book by Gary Murphy, Raj Charai and John Hogan called Regulating Lobying: A Global Comparison, it being launched tomorrow in Dublin. There’s another subject we need to look at in this country.