Enda's provincial press clippings tip Mary over edge

It was probably the localised nature of the questions that did it. Because she had let the cat out of the bag to constituents about Budget reversal number three - on the disability grant age limit - five days before the Minister for Social and Family Affairs announced it to the nation, via RTÉ radio.

Enda had started off asking for another apology for the unnecessary angst caused over the medical cards for the over-70s, when it had been sorted with the GPs. Then he asked about the rate of tax relief for residents under the fair deal nursing homes scheme.

But then he asked the vital question about a local Donegal paper, the Tirconnell Tribune, which reported yesterday that the Tánaiste had last Saturday assured the Down Syndrome Association that the cuts in the disability grant would be reversed and the increase in the age of eligibility to 18 would not go ahead.

Through all the questioning the Ceann Comhairle tried to head him off at the pass insisting that he could not allow deputies to come into the House "and read from provincial papers on a Thursday morning".

Enda kept talking as the Tánaiste tried to answer the questions. Minister for Health Mary Harney sat beside and looked up at her, as though surprised, when Kenny mentioned the Tánaiste's comments in the local paper.

Coughlan insisted that she had not spoken to the paper but didn't deny the comments. She answered as Kenny was still on his feet and, when he said that he didn't hear anything she "muttered", she insisted she had spoken "clearly and distinctly".

When he repeatedly pressed the Minister as to whether her comments were true, she lost the head.

In a stern voice, teeth gritted she said: "I have listened to the condescending remarks of Deputy Kenny for a considerable period of time." There was a bit of a collective gasp.

And she snarled that it was out of order for her to answer any of the questions unrelated to legislation. "I am more than happy to deal with the leniency that has been shown, but not from now on." Fine Gael's Paul Kehoe said she was talking out of both sides of her mouth "saying one thing in the House and another in Donegal".

She retorted "I'll sort you out" to which there was a collective "oooh", at which point the blushing Wexford Fine Gael man demanded to know how she'd sort him out.

The Tánaiste, by this stage returned to a calm and sunny nature, retorted: "I'll buy Deputy Kehoe a fine cappuccino and discuss the Tirconnell Tribune with him, no problem."