'Golfgate' stink pervades but Gormley and Co pinch noses for the greener good


Cowen’s Coalition partners greet latest row with weary stoicism and averted eyes, writes MIRIAM LORD

THE LEINSTER House chapter of Concern (aka the Greens) went on a field trip to the seaside yesterday, selflessly stepping over the Taoiseach’s latest mess as they made their way north to Malahide.

Oh, but this one is horrible. It stinks to high heaven and, worse still, it involves golf.

Over the weekend, Brian Cowen was forced to admit to previously undisclosed meetings with disgraced banker Seán FitzPatrick. As one of these occasions involved 18 holes followed by dinner over a leisurely seven hours at a swanky golf course in Wicklow, it rather demolishes Biffo’s well-worn chorus of “Seánie – I hardly knew ya!” And with that, yet another deeply embarrassing episode is presented to the Greens by their senior partner. They express concern about the situation, but after three years in power with Fianna Fáil they know the drill.

With a weary stoicism, perfumed handkerchiefs are pressed to quivering nostrils, eyes are averted and the Greens move swiftly on.

But now that a general election is just around the corner, members of the Leinster House chapter of Concern are ruefully wondering about their charitable policy of overlooking the frailties of their FF colleagues for the greener good. They are staring at electoral ruination.

The temptation must be to cut and run. But the clear message from the Greens is that they intend to remain in Coalition until the Finance Bill is passed, no matter how much provocation they get from the dismal Cowen quarter.

This will come as a disappointment to those in Fianna Fáil who want to see the back of Biffo but haven’t the backbone to do the deed themselves. John Gormley withdrawing his party’s support would accomplish this for them. Instead, he averts his eyes and moves on. Let the Soldiers of Destiny clean up their own mess.

Our golfing Taoiseach is fortunate that the Greens in his Government are far more accommodating than the unforgiving greens in Druid’s Glen. It’s a miracle that he still holds his tour card.

At a fraught press conference after their think-in, Gormley and his colleagues couldn’t hide their frustration at Biffo’s latest blunder. An air of injured innocence enveloped them.

How come they have to carry the can for Cowen’s shortcomings? They weren’t making much effort to support him. “We believe the Taoiseach should himself have put these matters into the public domain much earlier,” said Gormley.

“We’re not Sherlock Holmes. We’ve done what we can under the circumstances and we have found no evidence,” was his ringing endorsement.

You see, they are enduring the indignity of life with a dud Taoiseach for the sake of policy. Hold nose, avert eyes, move on for the greener good. But it isn’t always easy.

The last time he had a captive audience of political correspondents was after his party’s last think-in. Back then, he complained, all they wanted to talk about was Garglegate.We thought Gormley was going to cry. “And now we’re talking about Golfgate.” He heaved a big sigh.

“We’re probably the most responsible party in the country right now,” he harrumphed at one stage, miffed.

They really are feeling sorry for themselves.

Not that there aren’t good things to celebrate. Although they might seem a bit small to some people, said Gormley, they are “in themselves, symbolic and significant”. What could they be? “Minister Cuffe has managed to get bikes on trains.” Yes, this is a party in election mode, as they reminded their audience time and again.

So too is Sinn Féin.

They mounted a picket at the gates of the Grand Hotel in Malahide. About a dozen of them, hoping to heckle the Green deputies as they went on a pre-arranged walkabout in the village.

It promised to be great fun. Gormley was going to go off and get a new pair of shoes for the election. The puns were lined up and ready to roll. Then somebody in the Greens saw sense and cancelled the entire gig.

The Shinners were bereft. What to do? Eventually, the commanding presence of Cllrs Dessie Ellis and Larry O’Toole beetled down the car park and into the hotel, seeking Gormley.

Striding with great purpose, they set off for the toilets.

“Wrong way!” roared the hacks, shepherding Larry and Dessie down the right corridor.

They arrived outside the doors of the Marconi Suite, media posse in tow.

“In the name of Ireland and the people of Ireland: Pull the plug!” cried Larry at two bouncers (a plainclothes garda and a mortified official from the Green Party press office) barring their way. “We’re here on behalf of thousands of people. Would you ask him for the sake of the country to call an election,” said Dessie to the garda.

They harangued the two expressionless custodians of the inner sanctum for five minutes before Larry forgave them for “only doing your jobs”. Then they posed for photos under the “Marconi Suite” sign.

“Are you a member of staff” Larry asked a plainclothes garda. “How do we get out?” Cowen must be wondering the same thing.