Calamity Coughlan digs a few more holes


DAIL SKETCH:HOW DOES she do it? The farmers are flummoxed. Here’s a woman who needs neither machine nor beast to turn a sod. For God’s sake, she doesn’t even need a plough. Or a shovel, for that matter.

And yet, Mary Coughlan, all on her own, has managed in the last two days to dig herself into more holes than the doughtiest competitors at the ploughing championships. It’s all blood, sweat and tears above in the top field at Cardenton in Athy. All the Tánaiste has to do is open her mouth, and the hole she’s digging for herself gets bigger. If she turns up at the championships she’ll be in a class of her own.

Brian Cowen must be raging. He goes away for two days to New York — just two piddling little days – and look what happens.

Two sessions of Leaders’ Questions with Mary in charge, and he comes home to reports that a big rift has opened up in his Cabinet and his Tánaiste doesn’t know what she’s at from one day to the next. On Tuesday, she astounded the Dáil with a less than impressive grasp of the Nama situation.

Yesterday, she rubbished the McCarthy report, even though the Minister for Finance has been insisting that Colm McCarthy’s blueprint for a bloodbath will form a key part of his budgetary strategy. Mind you, she was grinning as she pronounced “there are many recommendations within McCarthy which don’t make sense”. Grinning, hand on hip, as she underlined her opinion with a double definitive “MANY.” Oh, yes. “MANY.” Lenihan, sitting beside her, gazed into the distance. He looked a little peaky.

In an effort to bring a little light relief to proceedings, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore tried an easy question. Was there any chance that Mary might be able to tell him when budget day will be this year? She wasn’t able to tell him on Tuesday, but he was hopeful she might be able to confirm the date for him at the second time of asking.

But no. She couldn’t. Why? Well, because deciding on the date is a decision for the Cabinet, and the Cabinet didn’t meet on Tuesday. So no joy there.

This came as news to the sleepy pol corrs, who seemed to recall that, at their daily briefing on Tuesday evening, they were told by a Government spokesperson about what happened at that day’s Cabinet meeting. Furthermore, less than an hour earlier, during Leaders’ Questions, Mary had this to say to Enda Kenny in reply to a question about Fás: “Yesterday, the Cabinet signed off on a new piece of legislation with regard to the structures of the board . . .”

Calamity Coughlan has elevated confusion to a fine art. The Opposition was too bamboozled by her to argue.

Never mind. It’s all in hand. “The Cabinet will decide what date the election . . .” Doh!

Election? Did she just say election? The Opposition went into such hysterics it seemed only a matter of time before individual oxygen masks would fall from the ceiling. “Bring it on!” they guffawed, as the Tánaiste glanced up ruefully at the press gallery.

Delighted with themselves, Kenny and Gilmore belted off to Kildare to attend the ploughing championships. Coughlan went to Cork, where she repeated her assessment of the McCarthy report.

It was all too much, so we went off to see the Senators settle back into the job on their first day back after the summer holidays. Nothing much had changed. Lots of talking. Lots of talk about taking becoming more relevant.

Senator Ivor Callely sailed in after his hols, and a story in a Sunday newspaper last week about an alleged spot of bother he got himself into while on his boat in Baltimore harbour and a strange reference to him wearing a kimono. (It’s a type of Japanese dressing gown, m’lud.)

Apart from some giggling at the back from Fine Gael’s favourite juvenile delinquents, nobody mentioned the war, or that Ivor, allegedly, had been a very nautical boy. Still, it was a relief that he made it to his seat without bumping into any of the furniture.

Later in the day, Éamon Ó Cuív lined out in support of his Tánaiste’s verdict on the McCarthy report. Speaking on Matt Cooper’s Today FM show, he declared: “The Opposition would love us to put our two welly boots into it. It’s a grand idea to mention welly boots because it’s ploughing championship week,” explained Dev Óg. “They’re dying for us to do some of the things that McCarthy recommended, because they know they would be totally unacceptable to the people of Ireland. Sorry, Opposition. Not your day. We ain’t gonna do them.”

Later on, Lenihan was asked about the rift. Brian wasn’t in the least bit bothered. He said he asked each Minister to analyse the report and make recommendations. “Ministers are always anxious about anything that impinges on their area of responsibility.”

He laughed. “There are always rifts between the Department of Finance and other Government departments.”

The bad news? There’ll be murder at the Cabinet table.

And the good news? If the rest of the Cabinet is like Mary Coughlan, they’ll forget the next day that the meeting ever took place.