'Let them eat cheese' approach fails to butter up electorate


Ireland entered the Twilight Zone yesterday – tipped into another dimension by a gaffe-prone Government’s cheesy attempt to butter up the electorate.

Do not be alarmed, for there is Philadelphia light at the end of the tunnel. Jaws hit the floor at breakfast time when the Minister for Agriculture proudly informed Morning Ireland listeners of the great news.

“Free cheese for the needy,” trumpeted Grand Fromage Brendan Smith, having spent the previous few minutes side-stepping questions about the publication of the dreaded austerity plan.

A budget from hell may be on the way, with €6 billion in cuts and tax rises planned for next month. We are living beyond our means, cautions the Minister for Finance, reprising Charlie Haughey. The future looks grim. But at least we have cheese. Cavan’s answer to Marie Antoinette sounded very pleased with himself.

Have they no sense? Did nobody think that boasting about handing out a bit of free cheese – laudable as the scheme is – might seem a little crass when set against the financial tsunami on the way? Did the Cabinet sit in silence, bereft of ideas, at their meeting in Farmleigh and wonder what they might possibly come up with to comfort a worried nation?

Then somebody shouts: “Jesus . . . cheesus . . . cheeses . . . cheese . . . that’s it. Cheese! Let them eat cheese!” And so the low-profile Brendan Smith gets his big moment on Morning Ireland and launches into one of the most absurd radio performances since Joe Jacob’s memorable interview on what to do in the event of a nuclear accident.

The free cheese scheme has been running for well over a decade, but no minister ever felt the need to make a big deal about it until yesterday.

By mid-morning, Brendan’s announcement had made it to the international cheesewires.

The Opposition rushed to condemn what they saw as the Minister’s insensitivity. Stung by the avalanche of derision, Mr Smith fought back, saying Fine Gael’s reaction to his free cheese announcement was “deeply offensive, especially to the many charity organisations which rely on it each year”.

If there were free wine on offer, which there isn’t, John Wilson, Irish Times wine expert, recommends “a nice Chateauneuf du Pape to go with your Coalition cheddar.

It would be funny, if things weren’t so damn serious.