Miriam Lord: Out of the swamp, onto the yellow brick road

Having dragged Ireland back from the cliff, Kenny stopped for a rest at a fork in the road

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Things are cracking along nicely now. The landscape is much improved.

Having dragged Ireland back from the cliff, pulled “our country out of an economic swamp” and, as David Drumm might say, picked a budget out of his arsenal of pre-election goodies, Enda Kenny stopped for a rest at a fork in the road.

Exhausted. He was immediately presented with a dilemma. Which way to go?

The Taoiseach explained to a riveted Dáil that when he looked one way, he saw a track pointing towards stability.

Indeed, there were sign posts everywhere indicating this.

And when he turned to look down the second path, he saw just the one sign. “Along the other track lies instability and chaos.”

But one thing was sure. Faced with this “fork in the road”, Enda quickly determined there was only one way to go.

“The stepping stones back towards the economic abyss are well laid out in alternative budgets published by the Opposition,” he declared during Leaders’ Questions.

“The Opposition want the country to go backwards” shuddered Enda. But, having solved the fork conundrum to his satisfaction, he now intends to keep going forward, going forward.

Then Enda linked arms with his Tánaiste, Joan. They launched into a jaunty version of Follow the Yellow Brick Road as the backbench munchkins gurgled happily behind them.

“This budget brings the country forward and secures the economic recovery” cried Enda. “I commend it to the House.”

(Due to intermittent bouts of sleep, that Wizard of Oz interlude might not have happened. It may have been a dream. The dreary atmosphere in the chamber on the morning after the budget before had a deeply tranquillising effect.)

The Taoiseach turned up on Newstalk to chat with Pat Kenny before going to the Dáil.

It’s the job of ministers to go around the radio stations flogging their budgets.

It’s a gig that taoisigh wouldn’t ordinarily touch with a bargepole.

Unusual step

It’s a pity that he had no election to build his interviews around. They would have been a perfect way to tee up a run to the country in November.

But thanks to the gentle persuasion of his Tánaiste, it’s definitely a date in Spring.

Enda told Pat that he’ll be sticking with his coalition partners until the end. (As opposed to the bitter end, which it would have been had he gone in November against Labour’s wishes.

Hardly the way to promote a message of stability versus chaos when the two parties selling it are at each others’ throats.)

Anyway, how could he abandon Labour now when they helped Fine Gael “pull our country out of an economic swamp”?

Meanwhile, there was scarcely a mention of the budget during a very poorly attended Leaders’ Questions.

The highlight was when Dan Neville’s mobile phone went off and woke everyone up. The ringtone sounded like the Angelus chimes.

Poor response

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig MacLochlainn brought up the issue of housing for travellers, and Michael Fitzmaurice, on behalf of the Technical Group, spoke passionately on behalf of turfcutters who are facing prosecution due to punishing EU directives.

For the day that was in it, these issues, important though they undoubtedly are, spoke volumes about the clever nature of Enda and Joan’s budget.

Usually, party leaders would be on their feet and howling about grannies or workers or children losing out badly because of some cruel new measures.

Cynical though it may be, but the smiling government backbenchers knew, when they heard the opposition voicing sincere generalities about social matters on the day after the budget, that Noonan and Howlin had broadly succeeded with their financial package.

Fitzmaurice’s plea to the Taoiseach to do whatever he could to influence the Brussels bureaucrats into softening their policy on bogs backfired somewhat on him.

The Independent TD for Roscommon/South Leitrim is very close to MEP Ming Flanagan, who played a pivotal role in his election last year.

“Will you use your influence with the technocrats in Europe to do something?” he implored.

Labour’s Eric Byrne wondered aloud about Ming. “We haven’t seen him since he went over.”

Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan asked why Flanagan wasn’t using his influence. “What’s Ming doing over there?” he shouted.

The rest of the day was spent debating the budget with a rota of listless deputies taking turns to come into the chamber to read tedious scripts.

Enda used the opportunity to tell us about how he conquered the fork in the road.

And a lot of TDs scuttled home early because the Dáil isn’t sitting today.