Sat, Dec 27, 2008, 00:00

Awards for Bertie's gifts for song and gobbledegook; Mansergh's shrieking loyalty; FitzPatrick's spectacular disgrace; the Bull's presidential pretensions

BERTIE AHERN left office garlanded with awards. He deserved a few more:

Curtain Call of the Year- Bertie shamelessly milked his final month in office with a series of stage-managed spectaculars spanning the globe.

"I wondered at one stage over the last few weeks whether the former taoiseach would outdo Luciano Pavarotti, who has the world record of 165 curtain calls in a single performance . . . He went close," Senator Alex White told the Seanad.

Brass Neck of the Year- He told the Mahon tribunal, when he couldn't explain where he got a particular lump of money, that he won it on a horse. Nobody believed him. But it didn't matter, because his tribunal stories had become so ridiculous, nobody cared anymore.

Victim of the Year- Everyone was out to get him.

Paddy the Plasterer Award for Broken Leg of the Year- Ah yes, Bertie fell on his feet when he left. He hobbled out when the going got tough and left Brian Cowen with his mess.

Best Supporting Predecessor of the Year award- "You know, from a political point of view I would have managed the challenge. But, as we know, that's life. It wasn't to be."

The Far Better at Speaking Gobbledegook than Brian Cowen award- "We will ruin ourselves and we'll go under sea and that we'll succeed in doing what St Patrick didn't do by bringing the water all over Ireland, and every other nonsense." (According to opponents of the Lisbon Treaty.)


The Big House Award for Maintaining Standards and Putting Manners on the Lower Orders- This goes to junior Minister Martin Mansergh, who displayed loyalty above and beyond the call of infatuation with an unwavering defence of his master, Bertie Ahern, as he endured his dark night of the wallet at the Mahon tribunal.

Prof Mansergh's finest hour came on Morning Ireland, when he reassured listeners that Bertie's difficulties were no more than a spot of inflight turbulence, with a safe landing in sight. When Fine Gael's resident tribunal expert, Senator Eugene Regan, dared to differ, Martin became quite agitated. How dare the senator question the great Bartholomew's finances?

"It's totally improper," he shrieked down the phone from his country pile in Tipp.

Then came a withering follow-up from the then Deputy Mansergh. "You should have respect for your betters!" The urbane senior counsel from Monkstown nearly choked at the other end of the line.

Mansergh was rewarded for his loyalty by Bertie's successor, who appointed him Minister for State with responsibility for Big Houses, Opera and Dickie Bows.

The Too Much Information Awardgoes to Minister for the Arts Martin Cullen, who told this newspaper that his life "changed forever" when he saw a revival of Show Boatas a child.

Cullen's main duty now is to croon the words of Till Good Luck Comes My Wayin Ol' Man Biffo's ear before Cabinet meetings.

The Lazarus is Not the Name of a Horse Awardgoes to former Fianna Fáil TD GV Wright, who has not gone quietly into the night following a low-key political career punctuated by passages of high-profile embarrassments.

One of the more colourful incidents involved Frank Dunlop and a large wedge of cash, left for GV in a folded-over copy of The Irish Times on a stool in the Dáil bar.

The clubbable former deputy for North Dublin, who shares an interest in horseracing with the Taoiseach, has been seen around Leinster House quite a bit since his pal Biffo took over the reins of power.

It seems Wright is one of the main courtiers at the court of King Cowen and is regularly seen in conclave with the Taoiseach in the members' bar.

And so, while GV never managed to reach the dizzy heights in his own political life, it is whispered around Kildare Street that he's finally got his chance to run the country.

Which is a comforting thought.

The Whited Sepulchre of the Year Awardgoes to those bankers who swanned virtuously around town, into the Dáil and all over the media to tell us how wonderful they are and how nobody is good enough to tell them how to run their businesses into the ground.

All swagger and shine on the outside, but rotten below.

They bragged about their non-existent fundamentals in front of a Dáil committee and a few months later were panhandling the Government for a few billion euro to bail them out.

And not in the least bit grateful at that.

Most of them are still in their highly paid jobs, waiting to meet the challenges of the upturn going forward.

However, a special Whited Sepulchre for Services to Himselfmust go to Seán Fitzpatrick of Anglo Irish Bank, who stepped down from his position as chief executive because, ahem, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

Seánie - as he is known to his friends - famously urged the Government before the budget to tackle the inequities in child benefit and medical cards for pensioners.

Then it transpired that this same paragon had been shifting a massive €87 million personal loan from his own bank into another like clockwork every year, just around the time the books had to be inspected.

Bertie Ahern had some advice for him after the bank shares began plummeting late in the year: "If you can't make money any other way, you can try it on a horse!" Not that it applied to his pal - "I think Seánie has a bit left!"

The Sing When You're Winning Awardshould go to Brian Cowen, and would have gone to Brian Cowen had he stopped singing after his victory lap in Offaly, when the future was full of promise and he was full of enthusiasm.

But things have gone so badly for the new Taoiseach since Bertie dropped him in it, that now it seems the only time Biffo is happy is when he is singing.

After those heady occasions in Tullamore, when the Taoiseach belted out My Way, and in Clara, when he sang a song in honour of his late father, it was expected that no-nonsense Brian would get stuck into the job. Instead, with Brian Lenihan and Mary Coughlan in tow, he has lurched from catastrophe to calamity.

But while the commentators can hurl any amount of abuse at him from the media terraces, they can't accuse him of only singing when he's winning. The worse it gets, the more he sings.

So the Sing When You're Winning Awardgoes by default to Bertie Ahern, who was photographed in the run-up to Christmas warbling happily with the Palestrina Choir. He may not be Taoiseach anymore, but as he watches the train-wreck that is the Fianna Fáil-led Government in the 30th Dáil, he looks more and more like a winner every day.

The It's Too Soon to Speculate with Mary McAleese Doing Such a Faablus Job Awardhas many contenders.

There is MEP Brian Crowley, that freckly-faced vote winner whose wheelchair wheels have rolled successfully through a number of elections now. The mammies love him.

The ubiquitous Bertie, currently vying with cast members of Coronation Street for the title of Most Sought After Supermarket Opener, is eyeing up the Áras despite protestations to the contrary. He even got a wheelchair for a while, with his broken foot. Senator Mary White has thrown her hat into the ring to general indifference within her party.

But what about putting a Bull in the Park? (It's about time the men got a look in again.) That's right, Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue. He never wanted the chair and has been working overtime to keep his name in lights while the real business of politics carries on around him.

He's opened up the Dáil to the public, running open days and cultural nights. He took his Oireachtas travelling show to schools around the country and booked a stand at the ploughing championships to try and spread the message that politicians aren't all wasters.

While carefully stressing that the job of Ceann Comhairle is strictly non-partisan, he has been out and about officiating at public functions, talking affectionately about greyhounds and spouting poetry at the drop of a hat.

He was on radio only the other day, doing a lovely recitation of a poem by Sigerson Clifford called The Boys of Barr na Sráide. With his lilting Kerry tones, the Bull sounded the business. The Yanks would love him.

And so our It's Too Soon to Speculate with Mary McAleese Doing Such a Faablus Job award goes to Ceann Comhairle, John O'Donogue.

(Wouldn't it be gas if Bertie were to have his presidential ambitions dashed by the man whose ministerial career he effectively ended?)

The Biggest Bang of the Year Awardshould be straightforward enough — as in the bursting of the financial bubble. However, while the after-effects have been horrendous, unfortunately the Government didn't hear it go pop until it was far too late. So in terms of sheer volume, the award goes to Fine Gael's Dr James Reilly, who needs to go to Quik Fit and get fitted with a silencer.

The Dog that Didn't Bark Awardgoes to the Financial Regulator.

The Superhero Awardhas been chosen from a crowded field of contenders.

Step forward the Invisible Men (and women). These are the senior ministers who are not part of Biffo's inner circle and have been conspicuously silent as the Taoiseach and his lieutenants Lenihan and Coughlan flap around the growing economic crisis.

Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin and Micheál Martin are among those who come to mind.

And what about the self-proclaimed Human Shield — Monsieur Dick Roche? Held at gunpoint by armed robbers in a Co Wicklow hotel.

The authorities provided trauma counselling and the criminals are said to be making steady progress.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan began as Wonderwoman, but as she floundered during both the Lisbon Treaty referendum and the banking crisis, she began to look more like Blunderwoman.

This is what she told the Dáil one Thursday morning: "I ask for the indulgence of the House, given that we need clarity on this issue. Of the savings of €100 million, €86 million is for GPs and €30 million is for pharmacists." People began to call her "Mary Palin."

But the award goes to the Incredible Twisting Man, deputy Paul Gogarty of the Greens. Paul played both sides of the fence with shameless gusto throughout the year, blasting Government decisions for the benefit of his Dublin Mid West constituents while voting for them after he finished.

Not only did Paul twist and turn on matters of policy, but he redefined the concept of political discourse during a local meeting, when he decided to show his disdain for Senator Frances Fitzgerald's speech by rolling around on the floor and playing dead.

Orphan of the Year Awardwas a two-way fight between the failing banks and Fianna Fáil backbencher Cyprian Brady.

After the dramatic midnight rescue of the Irish banks, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan explained the Government had no option but to pawn the family silver to bail them out.

"These six institutions do not have any other friend in the EU or on the continent of Europe," he sniffed. Had the taxpayer not taken them in, they would have been "left as orphans of the storm". But it's hard to have sympathy for the banks.

Poor Cyprian, on the other hand, was elected to the Dáil in 2007 with a massive, er, 939 first-preference votes. Bertie's surplus brought him home.

But with Bertie's resignation, Cyp is now an orphan of the storm, wandering around Leinster House looking for his political daddy.

Backbencher of the Year Awardis also a two-way fight between Fianna Fáil's Ned O'Keeffe and Fine Gael's James Bannon. Ned soldiers manfully on, through bank collapses and rasher catastrophes, the only FF deputy bar one without a job. (The other is Jim McDaid.) Ned doesn't seem to care that much, slipping in and out of parliamentary party favour with devil-may-care insouciance. He had a wonderful spat during the year with his Cork East party colleague, deputy Michael Ahern, dismissing him with the words "Wishy-Washy Man!"

The Tragic Three - Cowen, Lenihan and Coughlan - could have done worse than listen to Ned when they got into power. The canny Corkman predicted the bank fiasco and economic crash before any of the so-called hotshots in the party.

However, there can only be one winner, and it is the man who became known as "Bonkers Bannon" following a series of ear-splitting eruptions over the closure of Longford Army barracks. On one occasion, two colleagues sitting nearby said he was frightening them.

James Bannon also incurred the wrath of Enda Kenny and the party whip, Paul Kehoe, when he failed to turn up in the Dáil after the long summer break. Bonkers explained after his return from an African safari that he "forgot".

Populist Nonsense and U turn of the Year Awardgoes to Enda Kenny. In a radio interview with Matt Cooper, IndaKinny was asked to comment on Paul Gogarty's call on politicians to take an 8 per cent pay cut.

"Populist nonsense!" harrumphed the Fine Gael leader. "Populist nonsense from Paul Gogarty."

Two days on, when the mood of the public was clearly on Gogarty's side, IndaKinny solemnly declared that he was taking a 5 per cent pay cut.