If Biffo tempts you with the offer of a position in Cabinet: JUST. SAY. NO


PLUM JOBS, once upon a time. Ministerial prunes now.

Discipline, boys and girls! Look at the incumbents. (Or former ones, to be precise.) Deserting at an alarming rate. Mary Harney hoisted the white flag yesterday, opting to spend more time with her pension.

Would you buy a used cabinet from Brian Cowen now? It’s falling to pieces.

So when Biffo sidles over with that come-hither look and dangles the keys of a Mercedes Benz under your nose, do not give in to base political impulse.

Backbenchers – hold on to your virtue.

Junior ministers – make sure your status remains intact.

If Brian Cowen tempts you with the offer of a position in Cabinet: JUST. SAY. NO.

Back in the day, blessed were those who motored among the electorate with a State car under their pinstriped posteriors. It’s a different story now.

A Government limo, complete with matching Garda driver, will be a hindrance rather than a help to candidates in the forthcoming election. Bosoms don’t swell with pride anymore at the sight of a local representative who made the political big time and has the trappings to prove it.

The State car used to be a status symbol that impressed voters. Today, it is viewed as a vehicular insult.

You have been warned. We hear former minister Micheál Martyr is contemplating the purchase of a 10-year-old rust bucket to help him further down the road to beatitude – it’ll go down a treat with the disgruntled middle classes of Cork South Central.

All this talk of Cabinet jobs came about yesterday morning when the Taoiseach told the Dáil that he had accepted the resignation of Martyr and had assigned the Department of Foreign Affairs to himself.

He could do this because, following Tuesday night’s parliamentary party vote, he had full confidence in himself.

No wonder he was in such good form yesterday at Leaders’ Questions, aka the Dead Arose and Got Stuck into Many.

Biffo was like a man reborn. Full of the joys. He has a lovely smile, you know.

Rumour had it that he had already commissioned a sticker for the prime ministerial Merc: “My other car is a Volvo.”

Martyr should get a good view of it on the rear bumper as the Taoiseach overtakes his rust bucket on the road to Ringaskiddy during the campaign.

Not that Micheál, waking up to his first morning since 1997 as a humble backbencher, will be too upset. Yesterday, as he posed for the cameras and did a short interview about life without a portfolio, he looked a changed man, like the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders. As one observer put it: “I thought he had grown a foot taller overnight, then I realised he was levitating.”

Ironically, the same could be said for the Taoiseach. It was a gag a minute from Biffo during Leaders’ Questions. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, for all their noisy indignation, couldn’t help chuckling with him. Politics is a tough and often cruel business. One detected a touch of empathy from the two Opposition leaders, particularly Inda, who had to endure his own crisis of confidence last year.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was too busy regurgitating Biffo’s dinner at Druids Glen to join in the general soppiness, returning to the scene of his greatest triumph to ask the Taoiseach once more about the night he dined with the boys from Anglo.

You know, maybe Brian Cowen missed his vocation. Dreadful Taoiseach, but he would have made a great stand-up comic, right down to the occasional grumpiness and moroseness when he isn’t performing.

But here we go again. In the words of Van Morrison: “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?” The Taoiseach sparkled, but it was just a flash in the pan.

Although we did take pleasure when a retort to the pompous Ó Caoláin began with “Let me answer you kid, sorry, deputy . . .”

Sleeveen recoiled like a scandalised reverend mother.

Perhaps the jaunty display was that of a man who knows he has nothing to lose. He’s out on his ear in a couple of months, no matter what. But, in the meantime, with Biffo acting foreign minister, there is always the fear that we may end up at war with some country or other.

Which brings us back to the Cabinet jobs.

It has not gone unnoticed among the TDs that Green Party deputy Paul Gogarty was wearing a suit and tie on Tuesday and yesterday. Perhaps he is confident of a Cabinet call-up. Foreign Affairs would suit him well, what with his aptitude for diplomacy.

What a treat it would be, to have GoGo thrust upon the precious ones of Iveagh House (a cut above, are that lot).

Of course, he would have to kill Dick Roche first. Poor Dick’s face was a picture when the Taoiseach said he was assuming responsibility for Foreign Affairs.

On balance though, we think the Minister of State for European Affairs should get the job. It’s the humane thing to do.

Now there’s talk of a full reshuffle. As if the boss hasn’t enough to do, saving the economy and belting through the Finance Bill so the Greens can pull the plug on his Government as quickly as possible.

John Gormley held a press conference outside on the plinth at lunchtime to say he had met the Taoiseach to discuss the matter of when they were going to call it a day. He didn’t come away with a definite date, but he was “clearly” of the opinion that the election will be in March.

Will it be before or after St Patrick’s Day?

John couldn’t say. “I’m not going to speculate.” But he ventured: “We’ve set out a clear timeline.”

It’s the Taoiseach’s “prerogative” he explained. Some people started to laugh.

It seems Biffo is hell bent on taking the bowl of shamrock over to Barack Obama. Sure that would be worth millions of votes to Fianna Fáil in the election. Brian still believes he can turn the electorate.

Fat chance.

And what of the other two?

Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin?

Mary explained why she voted against Cowen on Tuesday night but is happy to stay in her job as Minister for Fun. She said that while she has no confidence in Cowen as party leader, she has full confidence in him as Taoiseach.

So what she was saying is that Biffo is not competent to run the Fianna Fáil party but he is competent to run the country.

And all those deputies who said they were voting to keep him as the boss because it is too late to get rid of him were echoing Mary’s disquieting notion.

And so to the other Brian. We hear he is deeply upset at how the last two days have panned out for him and is vehemently protesting that he never made a concerted effort to organise a heave against Cowen.

Is it that Lenihan has talked himself out of the big job? Agreeing with the dissenters, everyman to every side, but never actually fully committing himself to action?

Listening to pundits and politicians over the last 48 hours, it is hard to conclude that the Minister for Finance was actually involved in a plot to unseat the Taoiseach.

But will Lenihan run for the leadership after the election? Some of his closest supporters were saying yesterday that he may not even put his name forward. “That’ll be one in the eye for the Martin camp.”

And the last word to an experienced Fianna Fáil backbencher, watching recent proceedings with a jaundiced eye: “God be with the days of proper heaves, when there was blood and threatening phonecalls to people in the middle of the night and fist fights on the plinth. Look at it now. It’s vicious. Absolutely vicious.”

But at least John Gormley gave clarity on the date of the election. Not.

Opposition TDs found it hilarious. With no cut-off point nailed down by the Greens, Labour’s Ruairí Quinn thought he knew the answer.

“It’ll be on March 34th. Slam dunk.”