Cowen’s fightin’ talk; indignant Ivor; Groucho gaff; Jason drops in; a last mailshot; elf and safety
Deputies easily impressed by battling Biffo
AS BRIAN Cowen prepares to lead his queasy troops over the top to election carnage, a slight air of madness is taking root in Fianna Fáil. Following a few energetic Dáil and media performances this week, some deputies and Senators are daring to dream that Biffo can make it better again.
He might not be a very good Taoiseach, but when backs are to the wall he’s a powerful man to have in a scrap. The front rank of the Soldiers of Destiny is coming around to the idea that their peacetime liability could be a wartime asset.
If the awe-struck guff uttered in recent days about our “revitalised” Taoiseach proves anything, it is that the pundits need to get out of the House more. Where Cowen is concerned, the general public is in no mood to swoon over yet another bout of raised decibels and fightin’ talk.
His more easily impressed parliamentary party seems heartened by this latest reawakening, which indicates that they too need to get out of the House more. Granted, that could be a bit dangerous at the moment.
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey – no slouch himself in the pugnacity department – was so taken by his leader’s performance on Prime Time he has posted an internet message to party supporters, urging them to spread the word. “This week, An Taoiseach Brian Cowen spoke with passion about the actions he has taken as leader of this country, and what he is doing to get us back on track. His interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time speaks for itself . . . Watch it, and spread the word.”
The pair must have made up since Noel was embarrassed over being sent out to deny the bailout. He continues: “Assertions have been dressed up as facts over the past two years. We need to have a debate based on facts, and not the false claims of the Opposition and their cheerleaders.”
Meanwhile, amid talk of a rift between the Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance, the two men lavished praise on each other during Thursday’s meeting of the parliamentary party. Then Cowen thanked deputies who announced they will be retiring before the slaughter. There were some raised eyebrows when he paid effusive tribute to Dublin South’s Tom Kitt. Kitt has been one of his most prominent critics in recent months, but the Taoiseach just stopped short of giving him a gold watch.
The departure of solid vote-getter Kitt from the five-seater has sparked speculation that either Mary Hanafin or Barry Andrews will be persuaded to run in the constituency, as there won’t be two Fianna Fáil seats in Dún Laoghaire next time out.
However, it has also been whispered that Conor Lenihan, who labours under the shadow of Charlie “Mr Tallaght” O’Connor in Dublin South West, might fancy filling Tom’s shoes. “There’s already talk of building barricades on the border,” giggled one Dublin South stalwart yesterday.
One of the more bizarre moments of the meeting happened when someone remarked that former minister Michael Woods had celebrated his birthday the previous day. Suddenly, the entire room burst into a rollicking chorus of Happy Birthday.
“There was something mad about the whole scene. The roof nearly came off the fifth floor with the noise. Woodsie got up and made a speech. He normally takes about 25 minutes, but he was mercifully brief.” Interestingly, he wouldn’t say whether or not he will run again.
According to an incredulous colleague, 75-year-old Woodsie is “all on for contesting the seat again”.
Callely returns to the moral high ground
A highly indignant Ivor Callely took up the cudgels on behalf of his embattled party leader in the Seanad on Thursday, speaking with the wounded air of a man who knows what it’s like to be targeted by a braying mob.
Callely’s emotional intervention came after Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer declared he was unconvinced by Cowen’s return to form.
“There is a spring in the step of Government members having witnessed the Taoiseach being reincarnated, while the Fourth Estate is ecstatic,” scoffed Buttimer. “However, the leader of the Government needs to explain why he presided over and participated in a Government which got us into the economic mess we are in today . . . Is this about him upping his performance to appease parliamentary party members or is it about the people?”
Whereupon Ivor gathered up his skirts and hiked up to the moral high ground. “Listening to Senator Buttimer, one would think the political leadership of the country equates to the political leadership of the globe. He should take cognisance of what is happening around the world in places such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy . . . If the Senator had his way, he would be one of those in the mob shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ We know how wrong they were,” he quivered.
“Senator Callely has some neck to lecture me about morality,” bellowed Buttimer.
Ivor the Driver got down off his cross and declared: “I believe in looking at the glass half full and always try to have a positive attitude and ensure the best solution is found to every problem.” So what solution will he find to his Christmas card problem? Ivor’s cards are legendary. Will he send them from Dublin or west Cork? Will the setting be Clontarf or Bantry? Will he send any at all?
. . . but you can’t fool Seanad record keepers
The same Jerry Buttimer was in good voice all week. He should thank those kindly souls who compile the official Seanad record for sparing his blushes after he got a little confused during Wednesday night’s confidence debate.
Butsy was in full flight: “I do not have confidence in the Minister’s party in Government. I am mindful of the words of Groucho Marx in this regard: that it is possible to fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” On and on he went, delighted with himself.
We note, however, that good old Groucho hasn’t made it into the Seanad record – the clever public servants who spend their time polishing the oratorical gobbets dropped by Leinster House’s finest have corrected Jerry and attributed the quote to Abraham Lincoln.
Been there, done that, got the blueshirt
Former newspaper social columnist and part-time crooner Jason O’Callaghan has thrown his trilby into the ring in Dublin South Central and will be seeking a spot on the Fine Gael election ticket at Thursday night’s selection convention.
O’Callaghan, who could never be described as a shrinking violet, has left journalism and property investing behind and is now training for a degree in psychological oncology while working as a research assistant at Tallaght hospital.
“My allegiance is to the people I grew up with,” says local boy Jason, adding that a lot of people in the constituency are suffering badly now that the economy has taken a downturn. “I’m not doing this for money or fame – I’ve been there, done that.”
Jason still does his popular Rat Pack gigs: “That’s my hobby at the weekends. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’m a good Blueshirt.”
Also hoping to join sitting TD Catherine Byrne on the FG team are councillors Rory McGinley and Colm Brophy. They are sure to have a lot of support at the convention in Crumlin and it’s unlikely O’Callaghan will be successful on the night.
However, having already done a number of interviews with the honchos at party headquarters, we suspect Jason may be pinning his hopes on acquiring a parachute from on high.
Mary sends a big thank you
Christmas cards are thin on the ground around Leinster House. There’s very little ho-ho-ho about the halls what with all the talk of ho-ho-hausterity.
This is no bad thing. Cards from politicians bring out the worst in people at the best of times. Electioneering funded by the taxpayer is the most common complaint.
You couldn’t accuse Mary Upton of indulging in that practice. In September she announced her intention not to stand for re-election as Labour TD for Dublin South Central. The decision was widely publicised at the time and Mary received well deserved tributes for her diligence.
But just in case anyone missed it, Upton has sent out letters announcing her resignation, along with a thank-you to voters in South Central. (Swaddled in Oireachtas envelopes, of course.)
We happened upon some ungrateful drinkers in Fallon’s pub on Dean Street during the week who were mightily unimpressed by the gesture. “Jaysus, she sent me a thank you note and I have to pay for it,” snorted one Labour voter.
Has Mary started a trend? At the current rate of attrition, this could become a major drain on the exchequer. Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford, a former deputy for Cork East, was the latest to announce he is quitting national politics. News that the youthful Bradford – who is engaged to Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton – will not be running was a major talking point in FG.
What will be the cost to the country if the swelling flood of departing souls come over all sentimental and start sending “goodbye, thank you and good night” notes? Speaking of which, there is a certain Fianna Fáil deputy in the southern end of the country who is a noted and prodigious sender of self-promoting literature. One of his colleagues, with only the slightest smile, told us yesterday how this TD is experiencing a surge in returned post.
“One letter came back to him the other day and when he opened the envelope, do ya know what was written on it, in big capital letters? ‘F*** off you fat b******.’ That’s the way things are going for us now.”
Stories are coming back to Leinster House from deputies and Senators experiencing a lot of hostility from members of the public. This weekend’s post-Budget clinics will be torrid affairs. A veteran Dublin-based Government TD told us he is experiencing “a barely concealed hint of menace” on the doorsteps.
Meanwhile, a Labour deputy who met a Fianna Fáil colleague at a funeral described him as being “in a paranoid state and complaining how he’s finding it hard to go for a pint in the constituency without getting dog’s abuse”. Be careful out there.
Barking up the cheap tree
Ireland’s new best friend, British chancellor George Osborne, the future Baron of Ballentaylor in the County of Tipperary and Ballylemon in the county of Wexford, regaled House of Commons journalists this week with his tale of the Christmas tree, the civil service mandarin and the tyranny of health and safety laws.
It began simply with Osborne deciding that, in this age of austerity, he didn’t want the taxpayer paying £875 (€1,045) for a tree when a perfectly adequate one could be purchased from B&Q for £40. He soon found himself embroiled in a Yes, Minister saga as e-mails started flying and civil servants retreated behind a wall of bureaucracy.
Exchequer Partnerships, the company responsible for maintaining the UK treasury – and charging £875 for doing the job in the past – objected, asking how the tree would be brought in, who would water it, who would get rid of it after Christmas and who would put up the decorations.
The company declared that looking after an “off-contract” was not part of its deal with the treasury and warned it would have to carry out a health and safety check upon the tree, particularly if civil servants were going to indulge in the death-defying task of putting up the fairy lights.
Osborne persisted. The company eventually offered a tree for free, but only the treasury’s most senior official, Neil McPherson, was cleared to place the star on top.
The permanent secretary had to stand on a chair to do it because the company refused to loan a ladder due to health and safety concerns.
Or as the Christmassy chancellor put it: “elf and safety.”