Life according to the ledger is no way to lead
Dáil SketchThe outcry following Kenny's non-apology shows he has misread the mood
Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Good old Oscar Wilde there, neatly summing up the Government's reaction to the Magdalene laundries report for us.
They hire lawyers and economists to tell them how to watch the bottom line. These are the men and women who are paid the big bucks to help politicians guard against themselves when they might want to go mad and follow their hearts.
No point in them doing something they might regret when the profit and loss columns are totted up.
They deal in cold, dispassionate advice.
It's life according to the lawbook and the ledger.
But when something happens that stirs a deep, raw emotion in the public consciousness, the people don't turn to senior civil servants to show them the way forward.
They look to their elected leaders and expect them to lead.
And when last they looked, it wasn't an attorney general or departmental head sitting in the Taoiseach's chair. They put Enda Kenny in there, and put him there for a reason.
He's a politician. Take all the advice, weigh it up, and then lead.
Protect the State, by all means, but after the top level by-the-book advice has been given by the mandarins, bring some emotional intelligence to the job.
The outcry that followed Enda Kenny's non-apology on Tuesday to the Magdalene women demonstrated very clearly that the public feels the Taoiseach misread their mood in favour of hard pragmatism.
He stubbornly continued on that path yesterday with more of the same, but this time with more hand-wringing.
Throughout Leaders' Questions, the unspoken subject of compensation hung over everything, the Taoiseach said. And he said a lot, while still managing not to apologise on behalf of the State - and its citizens - for what happened to those women who endured forced unpaid labour in the Magdalene laundries while washing the dirty linen of the great and the good in Irish society.
He spoke of his sorrow and his regret and said sorry in any amount of ways, except in the one way which the women wanted to hear. All three Opposition speakers returned to the question of that apology, but they got nowhere.
Instead, the Taoiseach talked down the clock in excruciating fashion.
There was no way he was going to deliver a full apology. He stuck to his guns, as the Labour backbenchers rolled their eyes in sullen exasperation and even some of his own lowly deputies groaned in the rows behind him.
Let's not make this political he said, before getting political with Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald and Mattie McGrath. He spoke of the information in the McAleese report as if it had come like a bolt from the blue. As if all these awful stories of the dreadful times experienced by the Magdalene women had suddenly fallen from the sky on Tuesday morning and knocked the entire Cabinet for six.
The truth was out for the first time. Really? The women's stories were now being "believed" for the "first time." Really? While he twisted and turned and succeeded in frustrating most people in the chamber for the second day in a row, Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance, sat at the opposite end of the bench, gazing glumly into the distance.
What was he thinking? Perhaps, as very welcome events would reveal last night, Noonan had his mind on the imminent news that our bank debt burden might soon be eased. Or maybe his mind was on his handling of the hepatitis C scandal in 1994, when his harsh legal line against the victims of botched blood transfusions led to public outcry.
His successor Enda Kenny might have learned from that episode, which almost finished his Minister's political career.
On the evidence of the last two days, it seems he has not.
The Tánaiste and Labour leader made a rare Wednesday morning appearance in the chamber. He looked extremely uncomfortable, yet he too was at the Cabinet meeting which would have endorsed the Taoiseach's stance.
Eamon Gilmore will not have missed the disgusted expressions on his Labour colleagues faces as Enda ducked and dived.
It was rather unedifying. He said he believed the accounts given by the women and that they suffered and had a terrible experience, but all the time, stopping short.
That valuable apology will come. But at what price now to the Government?