Smiling Michael Noonan given the delicate treatment

The Opposition was subdued on the medical card fiasco after news of the Minister for Finance’s cancer

 Minister for Finance Michael Noonan addressing the media at Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan addressing the media at Government Buildings yesterday. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos


What day is it again?

The week after a bank holiday can be confusing at the best of times, but it’s head-wrecking in Leinster House.

You see, the day off on Monday is a lovely treat for mere mortals. But it’s of no benefit at all to TDs, whose normal working week in the Dáil doesn’t begin until a Tuesday afternoon.

So, in order not to be left out of the general holiday spirit, they don’t come back to Kildare Street until Wednesday.

Now, normally, business commences at 9.30 in the morning of a Dáil Wednesday. Except in the case of a bank holiday, when proceedings begin after lunch. Because that’s when matters get under way on Tuesday.

Are you still with us?

Yesterday, it was near teatime before they got around to Leaders’ Questions, without the leader – Enda having jetted off to America’s Silicon Valley for some therapeutic high-fiving to get over recent traumas such as the Shatter resignation, the election unpleasantness, the imminent departure of his Tánaiste and the increasingly likely prospect of regular tête-à-têtes with the combative Joan Burton.

And on top of all that, he also got unsettling news from the Minister for Finance that a lump on his shoulder had been diagnosed as cancerous. That was back in February.

Not a word got out about this as Michael Noonan had “kept the circle tight”.

Nonchalant tone

He has since had treatment and the sarcoma was removed last week. Thankfully, the prognosis is good. At least that was one worry Enda didn’t have to take with him on his trade mission to California.

Mr Noonan, meanwhile, took to the courtyard of Government Buildings yesterday morning to deliver a short bulletin on the state of his health. He’s more used to delivering updates on the state of the ailing nation’s economic health, but he outlined his personal situation with his trademark nonchalant tone.

“Ah, yah know, it’s another thing that happens one . . .”

There was quite a bit of detail about coming across the lump when having a shower – as is often the way – and thinking as people often do – “Jesus, there’s a lump there, yah know, I better get it checked.”

The Minister was discharged from hospital on Sunday. There’s a wound on his shoulder; he’s off the heavy painkillers and on the paracetamol.

It isn’t often the media pack has a Minister for Finance before the microphones. But given the subject matter, there was an unfamiliar delicacy about the way the questions were handled.

His ability to perform in Cabinet at full strength was broached, particularly in the light of the forthcoming reshuffle. Given the upbeat prognosis and his doctors’ view that there is a low risk the cancer might return, he said he was going to continue as normal.

The medics may have a different view, but “ah yah, sure doctors always tell you: ‘Take it easy’”.

“There’s another budget to bring in,” he smiled, in that Noonan way that is less than reassuring. “And another after that!”

That should make spirits soar. Although the Minister helpfully intimated the “adjustments” may not have to be as sweeping as Europe appears to be expecting. Full steam ahead, so, to October 14th, which will be budget day.

Then Mr Noonan steamed on to the Dáil chamber, where he was standing in for the Taoiseach.

There was only one Minister – Frances Fitzgerald – with him for Leaders’ Questions, along with just three junior Ministers.

The top ranks are a bit jittery in these pre-reshuffle weeks, while Joan Burton and Alex White are preoccupied with their ongoing contest for the Labour leadership.

‘Departure Lounge’

Some cruel backbenchers, eyeing up their own prospects for advancement, have taken to calling the ministerial rows “The Departure Lounge”. How many will survive the cull?

Mr Noonan is one of the few who doesn’t have to worry.

Perhaps it was the knowledge of Mr Noonan’s recent health scare which had Opposition leaders subdued, but the expected onslaught over the medical card situation didn’t happen.

Micheál Martin decided to talk about private health insurance, and he didn’t cut up rough when Noonan replied to his first question by reading out a statement and then responded to the second with the usual hackneyed attack about Fianna Fáil ruining the country.

Gerry Adams, meanwhile, trained his sights on the Minister for Health, with questions over the appointment of a body to look into the state of the maternity services in the west.

Mr Noonan said he’d look into his concerns.

It was all very low-key, as if Mr Martin and Mr Adams were holding back until Enda Kenny returns to the hot seat.

Socialist and former Aer Lingus worker Clare Daly didn’t hold back though, with a very passionate contribution on the ongoing dispute in Aer Lingus.

The Minister thought her contribution was one-sided, solely concentrating on staff working conditions. What about the 30,000 people who had been discommoded by their one-day strike?

“I think the action was disproportionate – I said it to you last week and I repeat it to you this week.”

He said the dispute should be handled through the normal industrial relations channels.

Normal industrial relations channels in Fine Gael are handled at the parliamentary party meeting. They held their weekly venting session last night. In the Taoiseach’s absence, Minister for Health and deputy leader James Reilly (currently holding a prime position in The Departure Lounge) was due to preside.

Unlike Mr Noonan’s earlier appearance before the media, delicacy in the matter of questions was not expected to figure.

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