Hell at the Gates by John Lee and Daniel McConnell : Review

Over the last year or two, I’ve read a few different accounts of Ireland’s financial downfall. In different ways, and from different points of view, such accounts shed light on events leading up to the bailout. But, often, they go back over familiar ground and add little that is new or interesting.

Nevertheless, when I saw that John Lee and Daniel McConnell had a book about the downfall of the Fianna Fáil bailout Government, I put it on my Christmas wish list. Sure enough, the wish came true. So, this week, admittedly late to the party, I finally settled down to read Hell at the Gates : The Inside Story of Ireland’s Financial Downfall. I finished it in two days — always a good sign.

For anyone interested in politics, this is an interesting read. The insights into Brian Cowen’s tenure as Taoiseach and Brian Lenihan’s as Minister for Finance are fascinating. The authors base the book on information gleaned from conversations with various sources. The names are familiar — Brian Cowen, Conor Lenihan, Micheál Martin, Pat Carey, Mary Harney and Mary O’Rourke among others. The perspectives, however, to me at least, are refreshingly new. They give a sense of the events, tensions and drama that culminated in Fianna Fáil’s 2011 election wipe out.

Nevertheless, at times, Hell at the Gates is a depressing read

Politics might not take priority over the national interest.  But politics certainly added to the difficulties faced by Cowen and Lenihan and contributed to apparently chaotic and reactive decision making.

All the same — particularly in the final chapters which describe Lenihan’s negotiations with Europe — this is an absorbing account of events inside Leinster House during a nightmarish period.

Published by Mercier Press, Hell at the Gates runs to just over 300 pages.