Englebert returns with spring in his goose step


Merkel’s blue-eyed boy teamed up with Gunter Gilmore and Bernhardt Howlin

BREAK OUT the Blue Nun, meine little strudel! We have turned a corner and the landscape is changed. But not for the wurst, insist Englebert Kenny and Gunter Gilmore. Ireland’s Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor were in good spirits yesterday when they lunveiled the Government’s programme of public service reform.

Thanks to the sterling work of Bernhardt Howlin, they have discovered vays of culling the quangos and delivering staff cuts.

Englebert had just returned from a flying visit to the Motherland, with a glint in his eye. “We will identify the bodies that are no longer needed,” he murmured.

Gunter smiled.

He was fresh from his second day in charge of Leaders’ Questions in the BundesDáil.

The public service blueprint, he remarked, shows the Government’s determination “not to waste a crisis”. But the programme is demanding and “will be difficult for all of us”. Englebert smiled.

They outlined their plans at a packed press conference in Government Buildings. Also at the top table mit the three main players was Junior Minister, Otto Hayes. He didn’t have a main speaking role but he made himself useful by pouring the water for chancellor and the two ministers.

It fell to Bernhardt, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to relay the details. Minister Howlin is so enthusiastic about his work that his BundesDáil colleagues call him “Dr No” – but not to his face.

There will be 23,500 fewer jobs in the public service by the time he finishes in the year 2015. Some quangos will be abolished, many will be amalgamated with identical siblings and more will be subsumed into government departments.

The Minister for Downsizing delivered such a comprehensive package that both Englebert and Gunter went out of their way to praise him for his efforts.

Good work, Bernhardt.

For they knew that, somewhere in an office in Berlin, people were taking notes. While Howlin spoke, Ireland’s Chancellor and his second in command leaned in close and whispered to each other. Each time they did it, the photographers snapped away.

Poor little Otto looked sad – he’s the Minister of State mit special responsibility for ze downsizing and he wasn’t getting a look in. Then an official (Robert Watt, secretary of the Department of Public Expenditure) crept up to the platform. Crouching, he crooked his arm over the edge of the top table and held a handwritten note under Englebert’s nose. Chancellor Kenny, squinting, read it and laughed.

The official melted back into the shadow of departmental suits. Englebert turned to Gunter Gilmore and murmured something. Gunter sniggered.

“And that’s an extraordinary reduction,” continued Bernhardt Howlin, still at the podium. “We have developed a common plan and a set of deliverables.” Never mind that.

What did the official write? We had to find out.

He explained afterwards that Englebert and Gunter were curious about a particular action (he didn’t elaborate) he had taken earlier. He wrote on the note: “I was acting on orders.” Oh, merciful hour. We had indeed chosen Berlin over Boston.

Poor Otto Hayes was still looking like nobody’s child at the far end of the table. Then Minister Howlin turned and went out of his way to pay him a special tribute for all his tireless work.

Otto beamed. Gunter, beside him, added his compliments and then Englebert leaned back and favoured him with a very approving, fatherly, nod.

Does this mean Chancellor Kenny has forgiven him for his pivotal role in Fine Gael’s night of the long knives, when the young Hayes tried to take him out?

And then there was the decision to cancel the controversial decentralisation programme. “Today, we draw a line under decentralisation,” said Englebert.

Ah yes, how we remember that budget day back in 2003, when Charlie McCreevy was minister for finance and Ireland was still free. As Champagne Charlie was on his feet in the chamber, we were enjoying a budget-day sherbet with a government official.

“I really must get back upstairs to find out what’s happening,” protested this reporter.

“Don’t worry. There’s only one story today. The opposition won’t know what to do – we’ve pulled off one helluva stroke. The papers will be full of it.” Whereupon the delighted aide explained Charlie’s decentralisation wheeze.

What opposition deputy would want to rubbish proposals promising jobs and revenue for their patch? The rest is a rather unpleasant history.

Gunter Gilmore is glad to see the back of the scheme. “There was something absolutely malign about it,” he said. It viewed the public service “as something that can be carved up and divvied out”. Then when word arrived from Germany. A story was running on the wires headlined “Germany inspects Irish budget”. Turns out documents presented to a Bundestag gave purported details of tax measures proposed for the budget on December 6th.

Very embarrassing for all concerned. The Government is blaming the troika. But after this latest rationalisation programme, Angela Merkel should be pleased with her blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, Englebert Kenny.

Still, it could have been much worse. As the press conference ended, we could have sworn we heard one of the ministers croak: “Jaysus, lads, thank God we didn’t go mit der lederhosen.” That would have been unwise, reich enough.