Self-centred:?sacked junior minister John McGuinness

This column has criticised Tánaiste Mary Coughlan on more than one occasion. The primary reason has been her failure to engage directly with business or at least to do so with the same energy she took to her role with the farming community as Minister of Agriculture.

I have recognised her ability but bemoaned the fact that she has been largely invisible with the small and medium business sector that needs political attention and leadership like never before. It is all the more frustrating that our minister is someone of talent and courage but seems incapable of displaying either quality at a time when the business community is in desperate need of support.

Brian Cowen is not everyone's cup of tea. Nor is he performing to his ability but he is nobody's fool so, at a time when he was taking the political helm, why would he have chosen Mary Coughlan as his Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment? Some argue that this and his decision to select Brian Lenihan as Minister for Finance demonstrated his political naivety and elements within Fianna Fáil mutter that Bertie would never have made the same mistake. How right they are. Bertie, the ultimate consensus man, never fired anyone and was so determined to keep everyone on his side that he just increased the number of appointments whenever he had a tight call to make.

Given my own views I was intrigued by the reaction of John McGuinness, Mary Coughlan's erstwhile ministerial colleague in the Department of Enterprise and Employment until Cowen axed him in his cull of Wednesday week last. I was so intrigued that I had intended writing about it for last weekend's paper but thought it might be best to see how his initial criticism played out. I am glad I did because what is now clear is that McGuinness dithered over what to do once he knew his fate but – having reflected on his loss of office – decided ultimately that he would test the level of internal Fianna Fáil discomfort with Cowen's troubled leadership. What had he to lose? Once the reality of his return to the backbenches had really struck home it seemed the logical step.

This is how his impassioned criticism of the Taoiseach and to an even greater extent his former senior ministerial colleague at the department, Mary Coughlan, must be assessed. After all, the previous week, in reflecting on the impending changes at junior ministerial level, McGuinness had offered the following balanced and considered commentary: "Ministers of State were not sacked, they resigned. It is a sign of cooperation and what we need to do in terms of understanding the economy with which we are now dealing."

In the knowledge that a number of junior ministers were going to lose their jobs, McGuinness' view reflected huge self-belief so that the "cooperation" he referred to was a form of sacrifice to be made by others or else when it turned out that he was asked to "cooperate" he decided to make a name for himself on the way out.

I wanted to believe otherwise. His criticisms rang true to me but instead of cheering him on from the sidelines I am left angered by his naked political posturing. It is perfectly acceptable for me to bitch and moan about Coughlan. I have a medium – fast becoming small – business and the lack of real action by government to help me and thousands like me address our problems is costing jobs. In that context there is nothing laudatory about McGuinness' self-centred carry-on.

It is a strange thing about politics. It is like professional sport. Egos and expectations way beyond an individual's ability are common features. McGuinness would have us believe that he had been working every hour that God gave him trying to get his senior colleague and the department to take the concerns of Irish business seriously.

Now I don't believe the Tánaiste or her department are working effectively but equally I don't believe for one moment that for the last 10 months a little-known junior minister from Carlow/Kilkenny was tilting at the proverbial windmills on our behalf. His dramatic account of a face-to-face showdown with Coughlan fails to convince me either.

The reference to McGuinness as "little-known" is not meant to be mean-spirited. It reflects the reality that despite my keen interest in these matters, I have had no sense that in the midst of the overwhelming ordinariness of the Department of Enterprise and Employment's performance, there was a junior minister who was trying to force the business agenda but meeting indifference every step of the way.

In my book, McGuinness has been part of this government's below-par performance in this arena and if Cowen decided that seven junior ministers needed to go, there was nothing in McGuinness' performance that warranted him avoiding the axe.

My few politically active friends (card-carrying Labour Party members) say the word inside Leinster House is that McGuinness has little enough support within Fianna Fáil. His broadside was a cheap and entirely predictable performance given the current administration's acute difficulties. I was curious as to which of the other six sacked juniors had done so – only to find it was none other than Tom Kitt, another Fianna Fáil superhero who, lest we forget, was so magnanimous about not getting a place in Cowen's cabinet a year ago that he announced his intention to resign from politics altogether. I suspect this endorsement tells us all we need to know about McGuinness.