2012: What's in store


THE NEW political season got off to a slow start this week. It gives us the perfect opportunity to take out our crystal ball and see what the future holds for 2012 . . .

ENDA KENNYBy the end of the year, as he moves ever closer to breaking Bertie Ahern’s record for cutting ribbons, pressing flesh and kissing aul wans, he will appear at Leaders’ Questions in hologram form in order to concentrate on his personal appearances down the country. Nobody will notice the difference as he will still be blaming Fianna Fáil for everything, but his poll ratings will soar.

EAMON GILMOREThe Tánaiste will win public approval for his decision to sell off the Government jet and the subsequent achievement of cost-neutral international travel for Ministers. He will deliver this astonishing saving through the accumulation of air miles, which he will then deposit in a ministerial travel fund.

Since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon has amassed enough points for the entire Cabinet to attend the European championships in June. On a daily basis.

His non-attendance at the party’s national conference in April will shock Labour supporters. But the Minister will be away auditioning for the lead role in a new movie about Macavity the Mystery Cat. “Eamon is perfect for the part,” said Quentin Tarantino. “Whenever atrocities are committed by his Government, he is nowhere to be found. Like Macavity, Eamon Gilmore isn’t there. You won’t find his paw prints on any unpopular decisions. He also has ginger hair. This is why I have to have him in my movie.”

MICHEÁL MARTINIn an effort to improve Fianna Fáil’s popularity with voters, Micheál will return to Leinster House in the autumn and push the nuclear button. Citing personal choice, unacceptable exposure to inclement weather leading to unprecedented levels of sick leave, and falling employment in hospitality and tourism, the Fianna Fáil leader will call for a reversal of the smoking ban.

GERRY ADAMSwill continue to begin all his questions to the Taoiseach with a preamble in Irish. This will allow the Taoiseach to use up the time allotted for his reply by blathering on beautifully in the first language, mindful of the fact the media will pay no attention to what he is saying and the Ceann Comhairle will cut him short before he gets into any real trouble when speaking English.

JOE HIGGINSThe leader of the Socialist Party will deliver an unscripted one-liner during Leaders’ Questions, shocking the handful of deputies present in the chamber. Sadly for Joe, this unprecedented departure from the norm goes largely unreported as the party leaders, their deputies and most senior personnel are attending a State reception in Dublin Castle for Deputy Mattie McGrath, who has brought honour to his country by winning an Olympic gold medal at the London Games. Mattie is the clear victor in the new discipline of “Talking S**te”. In fact, Ireland achieves a clean sweep of the medals in this category, with Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív winning the silver and Michael Healy-Rae taking bronze.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan lauds the returning heroes. “On behalf of the people of Ireland, I want to septic tank you for giving us so much entertainment and excitement. Officer Shatter here will now arrest you and sign an order to take your fines out of your Dáil expenses.”

THE BARRETTS OF KILDARE STREET(and Dún Laoghaire) will continue to joust with each other in the Dáil. But Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett and People Before Profit Alliance leader Richard Boyd-Barrett will mellow as 2012 unfolds, charming the Dáil with their touching performance.

MICHAEL McDOWELLThe former tánaiste and PD leader will form a new political party with former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox. McDowell will be the leader and spokesman on all issues and appoint his dog as deputy leader. Cox will resign and join the Green Party, but he has to learn to play a musical instrument first. He will then team up with Dan Boyle and Paul Gogarty to become runners-up in RTÉ’s Song for Europe contest. Eamon Gilmore will be chosen as the winner because RTÉ can’t afford to send anyone to the Eurovision finals in Baku due to cutbacks and the Tánaiste will be in Azerbaijan at the end of May anyway.

BERTIE AHERNFollowing the publication of the Mahon tribunal report, the former taoiseach declares himself “fully vindicated” and celebrates by barricading himself into St Luke’s to escape all the wellwishers from headquarters who are insisting he vacate the premises for once and for all.

Bertie points out, reasonably enough, that if you hold page 231 of the report upside down in front of the mirror in a steamy bathroom, you can make out the words “words can scarcely express” and “Bertie Ahern” and “dig out” and “tribunal” and “tissue” and “lies”.

Brushing away a tear of relief, he tells Bryan Dobson, “All they are sayin’ is that ‘words cannot express how much Bertie Ahern worked to dig out that tribuneral and the chairman wept into a tissue when he heard all the lies which were being said about me’.” Pat Rabbitte is so happy to be in Government he eats himself.

MING FLANAGANThe Roscommon-South Leitrim TD causes a furore when he appears in the chamber in his underwear. At first, deputies presume he is one of the extras in the raunchy Rihanna video being shot on Leinster Lawn (the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission having decided to bring in some cash by renting out the House for movies, weddings, First Holy Communion parties, and the like). Then it transpires that, in a low ebb during the continuing row over turf-cutting in Roscommon, Mink smoked the hemp suit tailor Louis Copeland made for him last year.

The Ceann Comhairle immediately imposes a strict new rule: deputies must wear clothes at all times. This formula of words is acceptable to all sides, including Mick Wallace, ending the long-running controversy over the Dáil dress code.

'Mr Six Weeks' Nulty feels the lash of disapproval as Stagg cracks whip

PATRICK NULTY, the “Mr Six Weeks” of Leinster House, joined the ranks of the Dáil Independents just 42 days after his election for Labour in the Dublin West byelection.

His colleagues were not amused.

Not least because headquarters had strong-armed them for a contribution to his election fighting fund. So, ideology and party loyalty apart, they could genuinely say they had invested in his future, only to be delivered a cruel rebuff soon afterwards.

Deputy Nulty wrote recently to Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg requesting speaking time for the debate on legislation governing the rights of agency workers.

Deputy Stagg – he’s lost three of his charges since the Government was formed – was feeling far from generous.

He told deputies and Senators of Nulty’s request and then treated them to his reply, in which he issued a refusal in no uncertain terms.

This went down a treat with the rank and file.

But while he is not a member of the parliamentary party, Patrick Nulty is still a card-carrying member of Labour, just like the other conscientious objectors Willie Penrose and Tommy Broughan.

Yet while Patrick is getting the cold shoulder, Willie and Tommy still seem snuggled in the warm embrace of their erstwhile comrades, despite losing the whip.

Has anybody seen Gilmore?

They seek him here, they seek him there, backbenchers seek him everywhere . . .

While Labour’s Scarlet Pimpernel is off in foreign climes performing diplomatic heroics in the name of Mother Ireland, his footsoldiers in the parliamentary party are missing their leader.

Eamon Gilmore’s decision to opt for the foreign affairs portfolio when the Coalition was formed disappointed some of his deputies, who had hoped the Tánaiste would be a high-profile presence leading them from the front through difficult times.

Instead, we are hearing words such as “remote” and “detached” when Gilmore’s leadership comes up for discussion. And that perennial thorn in the side of politicians, the “unelected adviser”, is being mentioned more and more in dispatches.

Labour has a large parliamentary party now and many new deputies. They came to Leinster House full of energy and a desire for change. Less than a year in the job and they are under fire from constituents for budget decisions and, as one deputy put it, “constantly reacting to Labour mistakes”.

Gilmore, who is this year’s chairman of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation, was in Vienna on Wednesday on OSCE business. The weekly parliamentary party meeting was chaired in his absence by deputy leader Joan Burton.

We hear that one senior party member launched a stinging attack on Burton for her handling of the controversy over cuts to community employment schemes. One backbencher described it afterwards as “rude, aggressive and sexist”. But perhaps there was more to that exchange than a disagreement over a policy decision. While Gilmore reportedly keeps his backbenchers at a distance, Burton has become something of a sounding post for the disaffected.

“I can’t remember the last time Eamon had a conversation with me. There isn’t a week goes by when Joan doesn’t get in touch,” said one TD.

It could be argued that Ireland needs a man of Gilmore’s capabilities to represent it abroad when the country is dependent on international assistance. Developments in Europe, for example, are of critical importance. However, it has not gone unnoticed that the Minister of State for Europe, Lucinda Creighton, operates from the Department of An Taoiseach and not the Tánaiste’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

Before the general election, Eamon Gilmore was seen as a far superior performer to Enda Kenny and was more popular with the public. Since they went into Coalition, those roles have been reversed.

“Kenny is out there all the time, doing the business with the backbenchers. He’s on the ground around the country, putting himself about, talking to the people. Where’s Gilmore?”

That question might be easier to answer in the coming months. We understand the Tánaiste is planning a nationwide tour. He is to embark on a great journey around the land, holding regional meetings in advance of Labour’s national conference, which takes place in early April.

“He would want to do something,” sniffs our disgruntled Labourite. “It’s very tough trying to get our message out – what we need is leadership. But at the moment, some of us feel like we’re just viewed as an inconvenience.”

A sorry start to 2012 after a week of apologies

The first week back after Christmas was marked by two apologies.

The first was from the impressive Josephine Feehily, chairwoman of the Revenue Commissioners, who delivered her mea culpa to an Oireachtas committee following the recent controversy over letters sent to pensioners. “We caused confusion and distress to some people and I’m sincerely sorry for that,” she said. Fine Gael’s Peter Mathews modestly intoned, “On behalf of the country, we accept that. . .”

Ruairí Quinn had people choking on their cornflakes yesterday morning when he apologised for the Deis debacle. He conceded he had been wrong on the issue of funding cuts to disadvantaged schools. “It’s not the best way to do it,” said Ruairí, whose previous ministerial experience was in the late 1990s.

“I’m out of practice. We’re getting back into the business of trying to do this . . . We get things wrong, all of us. And I think the first thing to do is to put your hand up and say, yes, perhaps let’s look at that again.”

That’s something you don’t expect to hear every day from a politician.

'Bottler's Babes' opt to come in from the cold

Minister for Health James Reilly opened Dáil proceedings for the new year when he took questions on Wednesday afternoon. His Ministers of State, Róisín Shortall and Kathleen Lynch, were with him – Bottler’s Babes, as some people are calling them.

The Brendan Grace/Jim McCann lookalike struggled though his session, sounding very hoarse.

But we were told that Dr Reilly’s condition was much improved since the weekend, when his laryngitis was very bad.

Given newspaper reports over Christmas which had Reilly and Shortall at each other’s throats over GP fees, it wasn’t surprising that his vocal cords were giving him trouble.

However, when we nipped into the chamber to look for signs of a rift, they appeared relaxed and in good spirits. Maybe they were going out of their way to put on a show of collegial good cheer, but the lack of tension came as a disappointment.

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, was also aware of the reports. He began his contribution by wishing everybody a happy new year “and in respect of the Department of Health, a peaceful new year among the Ministers”. How they laughed.

But we worried for Róisín, who was seated between her fellow health ministers. James had a terrible cough and was hardly able to croak, and Kathleen, eyes streaming and clutching a packet of tissues, spluttered her way through her replies.

Health – it’s a sick department.

FG surprised over Rabbitte approach to Quinn on Deis schools

IT’S ALL about Labour this week.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte caused quite a stir when it emerged that he had led a delegation to Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn asking him to row back on some decisions to cut funding to disadvantaged (Deis) schools.

Fine Gael TDs were expressing their surprise that a senior Government Minister would become so publicly involved in a move to urge an equally senior Cabinet colleague to reverse a decision. Particularly when they are both members of the same party.

“Unprecedented” said a Fine Gael veteran.

“Highly unusual” was how this newspaper termed it on Wednesday.

“I can’t figure it out,” added our FG veteran.

Perhaps Sinn Féin’s Private Member’s motion calling for the cuts to be withdrawn had something to do with it.

The proposed reduction of support for the Deis schools caused huge upset among Labour deputies, while the issue was the main topic for discussion at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting.

The SF motion was tabled by Seán Crowe of Dublin South West, where there are a number of Deis-classified schools.

Rabbitte also represents Dublin South West.

Which might explain why he came out fighting.

Ten things to do with those e-voting machines

1 Donate them to a struggling artist who can cover them in bubble-wrap and win the Turner Prize with a searing commentary on western democracy.

2 A free machine for everyone who pays their household charge on time.

3 Buy a plug in Powercity and use the receipt to dump the machines in their recycling bin.

4 Place machines at strategic points around the country so one can be rolled out at short notice to provide a handy step for President Michael D when he is due to appear at a local podium.

5 Weld them together and place on the seafront in Clontarf to provide an interesting alternative to the controversial flood barrier.

6 Replace the screens with concave metal, thus enabling the musical youth of Ireland to set up their own steel bands.

7 As they are of no use to man or beast, why not put them in the Seanad? The room will be going spare shortly.

8 Give them to the Germans. They own them now anyway.

9 Gift these unique examples of

electoral tat to visiting dignitaries. They would have to accept them as a refusal would constitute a diplomatic incident. President Barack Obama could have taken a machine home with him last year (plenty of room on Air Force One) and stuck it in the Smithsonian. Queen Elizabeth could have turned her one into a kennel for the corgis.

10 Bollards.