Miriam Lord: Enda gets that deja vu feeling all over again

Taoiseach goes retro in the Dáil with Garda resignations as water charges seem to recede

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny: told Mary Lou McDonald a few home truths regarding the water charges. Photograph: Alan Betson /

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: told Mary Lou McDonald a few home truths regarding the water charges. Photograph: Alan Betson /

 

“And the former commissioner of the Garda decided to retire” said Enda, with the utmost sincerity.

Out of the blue, he took a figary one night and decided to quit.

Micheál Martin was most impressed. “You managed to say it with a straight face: that you had nothing to do with it.”

The Taoiseach has great discipline. Even some of his backbenchers were smirking, as the Fianna Fáil leader’s questions brought the memories flooding back. But Enda had his sincerely serious face on.

Fond memories of those madcap days when the Garda commissioner opened his door in the dead of night to find the top man in the Department of Justice standing before him, preparing to impart a darkly ominous message from the Taoiseach about there being a possibility he might not be able to express continued confidence in him at the following morning’s cabinet meeting.

Martin Callinan took the hint and walked.

A subsequent inquiry into the episode found that Enda did not deliberately shove the commissioner out of his job. Mr Justice Fennelly, he twice reminded Micheál during Leaders’ Questions yesterday, found he “had no intention of forcing the resignation of a former commissioner of the gardaí . . . and that he decided to retire.”

Vindicating line

The Taoiseach cared not a whit for the leader of the Opposition’s observation that behaviour such as sending the secretary general of a department around to somebody’s house in the middle of the night is not normal and “when a commissioner happens to resign the following morning, that doesn’t happen normally either.”

But Enda has that vindicating line from the judge and that’s all that matters in his world. Fennelly may have made some more, rather pointed, observations about the manner in which commissioner Callinan abruptly cashed in his chips, but the Taoiseach is blind to them.

Here’s one of them: “The fact that the commissioner made his own decision to retire, does not mean that the commissioner was wrong to arrive at the conclusion that he was expected to consider his position.”

It’s a bit like a friend sending you a big cake with a fancy “Eat Me Please!” label on it. You scoff the whole thing, then get sick. But the pal who sent it around insists it’s nothing to with them; they didn’t make you eat it.

It is quite possible, nearly three years on from Martin Callinan’s controversial “sacktirement,” that Enda Kenny now truly believes he had nothing to do with the man’s shock announcement that he was stepping down.

“I would say to you, straight up, that you’re about the only person that has that view in relation to the removal of the former Garda commissioner” said Micheál Martin. He never said a truer word.

That particular controversy had receded into the mists of time until last week, when Mr Justice Fennelly produced his final report. It sank in the mire of the latest Garda omnishambles concerning a million made-up breathalyser tests and the ongoing water charges pantomime starring Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

By bringing us back to those heady days when a commissioner and a minister lost their jobs and the Taoiseach created a monumental distraction with dire predictions (soon quickly forgotten and which never came to pass) that prison gates might swing open allowing depraved criminals to walk free following the discovery of a phone tapping system in Garda stations, the Fianna Fáil leader made us forget the current awfulness of Dáil politics.

Things were every bit as bad in 2014.

Ever-present scourge

The retro feel continued when Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald returned to the ever-present scourge that is the water charges argument.

The fraught question of who should pay what for how much of water still courses around the corridors. Sinn Féin’s deputy-leader rose to get stuck into Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for double-crossing the Committee on Water Charges by deciding to revisit their agreement provisionally agreed a week ago.

On Thursday of last week, Sinn Féin, Paul Murphy of the AAA and other members of the Right2Water group were crowing about the victory they scored over those politicians who want to see people charged for excessive usage of water and also wanted meters installed in all new home builds. They celebrated thanks to the Fianna Fáil group on the committee, which voted with them and against the government.

There were rancourous exchanges between the two parties supposed to be sticking together to deliver stable government in these politically uncertain times. Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen stampeded through the negotiations like a bull in a china shop, seemingly determined to pick a fight with anyone even vaguely connected to Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney–- his nemesis in this tawdry display of political immaturity.

As the trading of insults over the airwaves and on social media reached a high point at the weekend, sanity began to creep back. Fianna Fáil rowed back on the Cowen-induced grandstanding, returning to their agreement with Fine Gael before pride and ego took hold on both sides.

They pretended last week never happened. Barry went all quiet.

Those weekend proclamations of “total victory” faded. Sinn Féin, formerly cock-a-hoop at leading the people to triumph against the dreaded charges, looked deflated yesterday. Mary Lou McDonald didn’t take it very well.

She blamed Fine Gael for the “sabotage” of the talks. Its “bully boys” forced poor Fianna Fáil into adopting their line.

“Will you take your foot off the neck of Fianna Fáil?” she asked Enda.

Elephant’s foot

Given the size and density of the neck in question, Enda Kenny’s foot would have to be the size of an elephant’s.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader was disgusted. “Sinn Féin will not back down. Water charges are dead and over and it is time for the Taoiseach to accept that.”

We can see the T-shirts now. “Sinn Féin: Undefeated Water Army.”

The Taoiseach told Mary Lou a few home truths.

He reminded her that Gerry Adams said he would pay his charges “and everyone else nodded in unison”. Then Paul Murphy swiped a Dáil seat from under SF noses in the 2014 by-election in Dublin South-West. “And then the sound of marching feet in Tallaght changed your view.”

Indeed, back then Adams hadn’t a problem paying for water. But after the Socialist TD wiped their eye, he suddenly decided to be against the charges, insisting he hadn’t changed his views. Rather, he was adopting his new stance as a gesture of “solidarity” with the anti-water protesters.

So, smiled Enda, if deputy McDonald didn’t mind, maybe she might desist in future from coming into the Dáil “as somebody who is right on everything and exuding righteousness on behalf of the people.”

By 8 o’clock last night, FF and FG reached agreement.

The waters might finally be receding.