Squaring up but definitely not pairing up


RADIO REVIEW:SHE WAS GOING, then she wasn’t going and then, with the help of an unlikely ally, she was going again.

The Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, thought she was grounded after Fine Gael withdrew its pairing agreement with Fianna Fáil on Sunday. As Coughlan could no longer rely on an Opposition politician to stay away from Oireachtas votes, so that their absences would cancel one another out, it looked as if she would no longer be able to go on an education trade mission to the US. Luckily for her, Ruairí Quinn, the Labour TD, stepped into the breach, and Coughlan was able to travel.

Fine Gael’s withdrawal from the pairing arrangement was patriotic, according to the party’s education spokesman, Fergus O’Dowd. It smelled more like psychological warfare. Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, wanted to look tough. He ended up looking petty.

Monday’s Morning Ireland(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) went big on this story – perhaps a little too big. “It’s a missed opportunity,” Coughlan said. She said the trip was organised before she became Minister for Education, adding, “In no way was I going to be avoiding parliamentary questions.” Aoife Kavanagh asked, “Is it embarrassing for you?” Coughlan replied, “It’s slightly embarrassing for the country. This isn’t about me.”

Quinn told Seán O’Rourke on News at One(RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) that sending Ministers on trade missions makes all the difference. But it wasn’t an unqualified vote of confidence: “Of course we want to get this desperate Government out of office as quickly as possible, but we have to put the country first.” Ouch. Asked if he was prepared to pair with Coughlan, Quinn said, “Provided I’m satisfied this is a proper mission and the Tánaiste is up to the job, yes I am.” Double ouch.

By the time Kenny came on air it was turning into one of those political pantomimes that rub voters up the wrong way. Kenny said he hoped Ireland did maintain a positive image in the US. “From what I hear, that may not be the case. In any event . . .” That was a little unsportsmanlike. O’Rourke asked if he was referring to Jay Leno’s lampooning of the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, on his NBC chat show, in the US. Kenny said, yes, he’d heard about it.

Over on The Ray D’Arcy Show(Today FM, weekdays), D’Arcy was not impressed. “You get sort of despondent, don’t you? That’s really childish stuff, isn’t it?” He played the audio of the clip where Leno shows an unflattering picture of Cowen and asks, “Bartender, politician or comic?” The audience laughs. (Cue the constant Irish fear: they’re not laughing at him – they’re laughing at us!)

On Wednesday’s The Last Word(Today FM, weekdays) Matt Cooper didn’t think much of the Dáil’s first day back and wondered why the Opposition spent so much time talking about the past rather than the future. He played a clip of Kenny, who actually sounded a little breathless to begin with.

“This Government has crushed the spirit of the people,” he said. The same could be said for this first, rather tedious, Dáil debate.

The former minister for defence Willie O’Dea is not easily crushed. He was back to discuss his life and times on Saturday’s Marian Finucane(RTÉ Radio 1, weekends). “I sometimes wonder will the real Willie O’Dea stand up,” Finucane said. He is the kind of man who doesn’t need to be asked twice.

O’Dea resigned in February after he was caught on audio tape making an unseemly and false allegation about an opponent. The defence by the former defence minister was that Limerick politics is “robust”. Finucane said, “There’s the cut and thrust of politics, but accusing someone of running a brothel or owning a brothel is kind of . . . memorable?”

Finucane reminded O’Dea that he described George Lee, during the latter’s brief flirtation with politics, as a bidet. “All right, my apologies to George and everybody else for that,” O’Dea said. Stifling laughs, Finucane read out the rest of O’Dea’s comparison: “None of them know precisely how to use him, but they feel he adds a bit of class.”

Fashioning himself as a latter-day Groucho Marx, O’Dea said he reads a lot and sometimes works on his one-liners. “I think I got a good reaction to it, I must say,” he said, which undermined his original apology.

He insisted that politicians often use “colourful” language. “I’m not the only one to do that. If you go back through history you see people like . . . I hate to claim myself good enough to be in the company of Winston Churchill, Disraeli, Gladstone . . .”

But, true to form, he went ahead and did it anyway.