Winston Churchtown goes on attack while staying on the fence

Thu, May 10, 2012, 01:00

DÁIL SKETCH:AT THE outset, may we just say that the reaction on the doors has been very positive.

In fact, Ireland has the most positive doorsteps in Europe.

This will become abundantly clear in the coming weeks. Both sides of the referendum debate, in a rare display of unanimity, will take to the doorsteps and declare themselves “heartened” by the response.

But while politicians say they are feeling the positivity from the nation’s porches, there is a sense in Dáil Éireann that the campaign has yet to reach full speed.

Perhaps deputies were still battling with their emotions following Éamon Ó Cuív’s monumental performance on the plinth the evening before, but they seemed a bit distracted during a lacklustre Leaders’ Questions.

Micheál Martin might have been expected to turn in a rip-roaring display of leadership, just to hammer home to Ó Cuív that he is the man in charge of Fianna Fáil, but he didn’t.

Instead, he addressed the issue of media scrutiny in the wake of the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel case.

Proving that a leopard cannot change his spots, he called for the establishment of a committee. Micheál always loved his committees.

As a discussion, it didn’t achieve very much. However, as both he and the Taoiseach underlined their belief in the value and importance of public sector broadcasting, at least they gave the Opposition a chance to have a good laugh at Pat Rabbitte’s expense.

The Minister for Communications also has great regard for public sector broadcasting. Deputies chortled that Pat is never out of RTÉ.

The morning was not a dead loss, though. It yielded up a big question in the form of Shane Ross, the Winston Churchtown of Dublin South. Deputy Ross is never short of a word when it comes to economic matters. In the light of a statement by the president-elect of France that he will not ratify the treaty until a growth clause has been added, he urged the Taoiseach to express his concern over the German chancellor’s declaration that the fiscal treaty will not be renegotiated. Angela Merkel “assumes to speak for the people of Europe immediately after democracy has broken out in France,” said Shane.

“Democracy always existed in France,” murmured Brendan Howlin.

Enda Kenny wasn’t so much exercised by “inconvenient outbreaks” of democracy across Europe as he was by Shane’s own stance on the fiscal compact.

“The people of Dublin South have a right to know where Deputy Ross stands,” the Taoiseach said, full of faux concern. He didn’t get an answer, despite many attempts.

Enda had news. And he was only bursting to tell it.

“I spoke this morning to president-elect Hollande,” he announced, adding that he congratulated him on his victory.

By all accounts, Enda and François were nattering on the phone for ages. It seems the only thing the Taoiseach didn’t do was invite him to climb Croagh Patrick.

But then, the Tánaiste has already adopted François as his favourite French socialist. Eamon Gilmore is still glowing after his trip to Paris to help the president-elect celebrate his win.

Meanwhile, Government deputies were growing increasingly concerned about Ross’s posterior. “You’ll get splinters from sitting on the fence,” cautioned Minister Howlin, as Winston Churchtown remained coy about his referendum intentions.

“You still haven’t said what side you’re on,” taunted the Taoiseach.

“We had a momentous decision made yesterday by a member of the Fianna Fáil party – good luck to him. I hope that you don’t build it up into such a big thing for your decision, Yes or No.”

Even Shane had to laugh at that. Micheál Martin went into paroxysms.

Then the action moved out onto the plinth, for the big announcement on Shannon Airport. We all rushed out for the sake of poor Richard Bruton, who has spent the last few months slogging around the world in the interests of job creation, only to have his boss take the glory back home by making the good news announcements.

The Minister for Enterprise – with Leo Varadkar by his side along with a very large doughnut of local politicians – got his few minutes in the limelight.

But it was touch and go for a while, when Enda raced out the front door just as Richard was approaching the microphones.

But the Taoiseach was otherwise engaged, meeting a 60-strong group from the Suir active retirement group in Waterford. He came out to see them after deputy John Halligan mentioned to him that they were on a visit to the Dáil.

Enda was in flying form. The important announcement on the plinth was punctuated by delighted shrieks from the Waterford ladies at the far end, as the Taoiseach posed for photographs and made a huge fuss of them.

Deputy Halligan was delighted. “We may hold opposing political views, but he’s a decent man. I’ve always said that about him.”

So Enda, did yourself and François converse in the one language?

The Taoiseach gave us an unnerving burst of French, then admitted that, while he delivered his “felicitations” in the lingo, he stuck to English after that while the president-elect spoke French.

No doubt, Monsieur Hollande told him the reaction had been very positive on Les Doorsteps.