There was an easterly wind that would have cut through you to add to the inner chill that attends presence at a funeral. Walking to the car park, it seemed winter had lasted forever, the last warm day barely in memory. The lunchtime news brought a political iciness to add to the wintry mood of the day: George Lee’s resignation.
Maybe Vincent Browne sensed something in the air, writing with prescience in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post:
Look at George Lee. He was doing a hugely valuable national service as economics correspondent for RTE. He and David Murphy, together, were delivering sharp and informed insights into what was happening to the economy and to the financial institutions, until Lee had a rush of blood to somewhere and decided to go into politics last summer.
He has been missed in RTE’s coverage of economics and financial affairs Lee has disappeared into the thickets of the Fine Gael backbenches.
You expect him to emerge on a high-profile RTE documentary some night to tell us how lonely he is, and how much he wants to come home.
George Lee’s resignation statement reflects the sense of frustration that Vincent Browne identifies. Commenting on his role since joining the opposition Fine Gael party last May and winning a by-election in June, he says:
The nine months since then have been a period of enormous economic upheaval. Throughout that period I have done my best to play a positive role in contributing to the national debate and to efforts to find a solution for many of the country’s economic problems.
The reality, however, is that despite my best efforts I have had virtually no influence or input into shaping Fine Gael’s economic policies at this most critical time.
The role I have been playing within the party has been very limited and I have found this to be personally unfulfilling.
When I entered politics last May I made it clear that I was doing so because I wanted to try to play a new role contributing to economic policy formulation. After nine months of trying within the political system it is now my considered view that the role available to me within Fine Gael is not a role I am happy to play.
George Lee was the country’s foremost economic commentator, he was one of the few who foresaw what lay ahead; one of even fewer who warned that things could not continue as they were. What is disturbing is not so much his resignation, but his judgment that there was nothing he could do to change anything.
With economic sovereignty in the hands of the European Central Bank and political power being exercised to protect financial interests, there is a sense of overwhelming powerlessness. With George Lee, there seemed at least a prospect of someone in the chamber capable of diagnosing the problems even if unable to cure them; with him gone, there seems only the prospect of locust years.