Dail Sketch: Joan Burton is just waiting on the new keys

Anything could happen before Friday

Joan Burton: Upon mature reflection, she might decide the mantle of leadership is too great a responsibility to take on and withdraw her name. And pigs might fly. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Joan Burton: Upon mature reflection, she might decide the mantle of leadership is too great a responsibility to take on and withdraw her name. And pigs might fly. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 01:00

Joan sidled in beside Enda during Questions to the Taoiseach and lingered in the Tánaiste’s pew until the Order of Business.

Not, you understand, that the Burton camp is taking anything for granted.

Oh God, no.

Voting doesn’t close until Friday. Anything could happen between now and then.

Alex White might get a major bounce in the polls. (Not to worry, it’s covered by the VHI.)

Upon mature reflection, Joan Burton might decide the mantle of leadership is too great a responsibility to take on and withdraw her name.

And pigs might fly.

Nobody in Leinster House is betting against Burton.

She wafted into Leaders’ Questions yesterday afternoon in a soft crumple of white linen, sunglasses on top of her head, looking very relaxed. The chamber was sparsely populated. Too nice a day to be stuck inside.

The Minister for Social Protection joined Charlie Flanagan (newly promoted and secure in his department) and Richard Bruton (residing in pre-reshuffle limbo) and began tapping away on her phone. The handful of Labour backbenchers sitting to Joan’s left watched her with interest as she took her seat.

Shortly afterwards, the Minister for Communications (in a soft crumple of grey suit) padded down the steps and sat beside his Cabinet colleague. They exchanged a few words.

‘Best buddies’

“Best buddies!” whooped Finian McGrath, as the Labour backbenchers sniggered while gawping at Pat and Joan.

Will they be still Cabinet colleagues come next Tuesday when Tánaiste Burton takes her turn in the Great Coalition Reshuffle?

It must have been a very awkward Cabinet meeting earlier in the day. There would have been Ministers sitting around the table wondering if they are going to be told next week to pack their bags.

As the afternoon progressed in the Dáil, Flanagan, Bruton and Rabbitte left the chamber, leaving just Enda and Joan on front bench duty.

Enda seemed more relaxed and rested than he has been of late. Perhaps the prospect of a bit of Cabinet butchery has him in good spirits.

Joan plonked herself in Eamon Gilmore’s seat and surveyed the empty benches and deserted public gallery. It must have been like sneaking into your dream home for a look around after the sale has been agreed, but the keys haven’t been handed over. She’ll get them on Friday.

The pace has slowed considerably in Leinster House this week as TDs ponder the imminent reshuffle. A tiny fraction are nursing hopes of a call-up to full ministerial rank, but many are indulging their dreams of a junior ministry.

There may not be a huge amount of scope for wielding the knife in Cabinet, but the Taoiseach and Tánaiste can afford to be more ruthless when it comes to rearranging their large assortment of junior ministers.

Accordingly, the Coalition troops are on best behaviour. There’s a sense of treading water in the Dáil, but all bets are off after next week.

Happily, for those who are favoured in the reshuffle, there will be some new names joining the ranks of the disgruntled. And they’ll have the long summer recess to seethe over the injustice done to them, which should enliven proceedings in the autumn.

Listless feeling

For all that, it was a productive day for Enda and his Government. The listless feeling in the Dáil was due to the fact that most of the action was happening off-campus.

James Reilly outlined a compensation scheme for the victims of symphysiotomy. Frances Fitzgerald elaborated on the apology given in the Dáil by the Taoiseach to the Roma families whose children were taken into care last year. Brendan Howlin announced he was scrapping the €15 upfront fee for Freedom of Information requests.

And Gilmore was still indicating his interest in becoming our new European commissioner. Which is all very odd, as everyone seems to believe that Phil Hogan has that job sewn up. Or has he?

We foresee more announcements on the horizon. This Government wants to go off on its holidays on a high note.