Hard times for Government as age of austerity clicks in


DAIL SKETCH:Party over for Lenihan as man with the plan becomes target for Opposition ire, writes MARIE O'HALLORAN

THERE WAS an air about the place of the condemned man’s cell just after he’s been told the execution is postponed.

Both sides of the Dáil were almost giddy as the day’s business started. Maybe it was relief that the eye of the international media had moved away – for now.

There was mirth and merrymaking. And of course, austerity.

In fact if austerity could be counted in words – more austerity fewer words – it appeared to be working at least initially on Sinn Féin’s Caoimhgín Ó Caoláin. Never a proponent of using one word when seven could be added, his initial assault on the Government was direct and to the point.

He accused the Minister for Finance of arrogance in claiming any Opposition proposals not based on the four-year plan would be nonsense.

“He also stated that we all partied. This is insulting to the Irish people. The Irish people did not all party.” But austerity is tough medicine and the word restraint couldn’t last.

The Ceann Comhairle had to “rein him in”, a much-used phrase this week.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen got himself into hot water earlier in the week when Labour deputy leader Joan Burton persistently heckled him and he asked her party leader could he not “rein her in”.

Eamon Gilmore told him “that’s not like you”.

The Taoiseach apologised.

Yesterday the roles were reversed, when Joan demanded to know when Ireland’s draft contract with the IMF was going to Washington.

Fianna Fail’s Frank Fahey started heckling and the Labour leader quipped to the Taoiseach that he should “try to rein in some of his men”, prompting laughter.

The Taoiseach joked “you’ll have to apologise to them” and “that’s not like you”.

During the debate on the four-year budgetary plan the Taoiseach said, without a trace of irony, that if the Opposition wanted to change the plan they’d better make sure their sums add up. But his oratory of previous days turned into the Sunday morning sermon of a retiring parish priest.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny compared it to a “farewell speech to the local Fianna Fáil cumann”. And as he looked across at the Cabinet he said he’d never seen such a “po-faced, sombre, demotivated and beaten crowd”.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan was equally excoriating.

“The smart economy is to be organised by the greatest bunch of dummies who ever sat in Cabinet.”

When he talked about infrastructure, Minister of State Barry Andrews said it sounded like the Government was doing a good job. Deputy Noonan described the Minister as “an unlikely corner boy”. But there was no doubting the Fine Gael finance spokesman’s corner boy pedigree as he put the boot into the European institutions and Germany in particular, painting the rather disconcerting picture that the IMF is more benign, or certainly less malign, than Ireland’s EU neighbours.

Germany he said, gained a lot from the crisis. “German bonds are a safe haven for the savings of Europeans, particularly in peripheral countries” and he calculated that Germany’s debt servicing had gone down by between €15 billion and €20 billion because everyone was rushing to put money in their banks.

As a major protest is planned for tomorrow, Joan Burton warned that while people should be “very robust” in their opposition, she pleaded with people to beware of the Greek situation where the violence of the protest marches damaged its tourism trade. The message: don’t turn a catastrophe into a riot.