Taoiseach tepid as bullies the target of Gerry's verbal darts

Thu, May 3, 2012, 01:00

SKETCH:NO SIGN of Éamon Ó Cuív on the Fianna Fáil benches yesterday.

Reflecting, perhaps, on his future with the Soldiers of Destiny? Not at all. Young Dev was among the dreaming spires of Cambridge University, giving a talk to the “Endangered Languages and Cultures Group”. He could just as easily have addressed the topic of endangered members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, but instead he talked about the preservation of fragile Irish-speaking communities.

Ó Cuív did his thing in the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, which is known as CRASSH. This is not to be confused with Dev Óg’s current relationship with his leader, which is known as “carcrassh”. It must have been a relief to Micheál Martin to have his troublesome deputy somewhere else, if only for a day. Having put in a strong performance on the previous night’s TV3 referendum debate, the last thing he needed was the anti-treaty Ó Cuív throwing a spanner in the works.

During a low-key Leaders’ Questions, one sensed that minds were elsewhere – out on the referendum trail.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams managed to get in umpteen mentions of the word “austerity”, in accordance with the main plank of his party’s strategy.

Where would the Government find the money to pay for this austerity? How would they pay for the gardaí, the nurses, public services? Enda’s backbenchers reacted swiftly, shouting about various methods that Sinn Féin might adopt to source cash.

“Not from the Northern Bank anyway!” whooped the Minister for Health.

“I’m delighted to hear Deputy Adams is interested in seeing that the gardaí and the nurses and the teachers can be paid. There was a time when you didn’t have that interest in the gardaí,” remarked the Taoiseach.

“But they had a lot of interest in them!” chortled Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher.

Enda reminded Gerry that he and his party had opposed every single European treaty.

“And we were right,” he retorted.

“You don’t believe in the euro zone, you don’t believe in the euro, you don’t believe in the European Union, you don’t believe . . .”

“We don’t believe in you, Taoiseach,” came the riposte.

Enda reiterated his belief in job creation, investment and growth and was applauded by his troops.

“They’re clapping for austerity,” cried Finian McGrath from his default position on the fence. Richard Boyd Barrett kept his referendum references to a minimum, as he was about to go across the road to Buswells hotel to launch the People Before Profit campaign. Once there, he and his colleagues took a stand against bullying. A very commendable thing to do.

They rejected – as did Gerry Adams earlier – the Minister for Finance’s attempt to “bully” people into voting Yes.

Michael Noonan’s remark on Tuesday that a No vote would lead to increased taxes has been seized upon by opponents of the treaty.

But was he acting the bully or telling the truth? His Taoiseach’s response to the charge has been strangely tepid. When asked to confirm whether the Minister for Finance is right in his assessment, Enda waffles on about waning “confidence” in the country affecting growth forecasts.

It’s as if he’s scared of the B-word, and how that might play on the minds of voters.

Not so Noonan, who stood by his statement, repeating that “uncertainty” caused by a rejection would lower the growth forecast and lead to a tougher budget. Enda, meanwhile, was asked at the launch of his party’s Facebook page on the referendum if this was the case. The question was asked three times – a simple yes or no was all that was requested.

But he couldn’t manage it. Will taxes go up, as the Minister said? At the third time of asking, the cock crowed and he was bundled back up the stairs of the Fine Gael headquarters by handlers.

Ironic, given that the main selling point of their new “web tool” is that people can ask any question they want about the treaty “and they will get a response”. Some will even get video replies from individual Ministers.

Facebook fine. Face to face, that’s a different matter.

Some Fine Gael deputies were mystified by the response to Noonan’s statement. “What’s wrong with what he said?” one of them asked us. “How can telling it straight be called a gaffe?” At this rate, they’ll be running out of radiators in the Mount Street headquarters. Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter are already supposedly chained to them in the basement. Michael Noonan could be next. And the bullyboys, it seems, are everywhere.

Back at the People Before Profit launch, Richard Boyd Barrett’s main solution to keeping the country afloat is to tax the superwealthy and bring in about 10 billion. And so say all of us.

But the fattest of the fat cats have an annoying habit of moving their vast fortunes abroad if they have to pay too much tax here. What would we do then?

“More of the bullying and the blackmail,” fulminated Richard. “How long are we going to submit to the bullying and the blackmail of the superwealthy who are refusing to pay their fair share?”

There’s a man called Michael O’Leary living in Westmeath who runs an airline. Galling as it might be, he might give him the answer. And wave from the jet with the rest of the millionaires as they bully their way to a nice foreign bolthole.