Miriam Lord: Coalition celebrates fourth anniversary all alone
What should have been a good week for Adams post-ardfheis got off to a bumpy start
Fore! Look out – the announcements will be flying for the rest of the year.
The sun went in when the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste stepped outside Government Buildings to mark the anniversary.
It turned very cold.
Enda and Joan were out in their figures. No top-coat for the Taoiseach and just a little red bolero jacket for the Tánaiste. But they were so pleased with themselves and so determined not to show it they weren’t bothered by the biting wind.
With an election due next year, the handlers have already defined this Fine Gael/Labour administration. On page one of the Coalition’s annual report – launched yesterday – they declare themselves the “Government for National Recovery 2011-2016.”
Having Stared into the Abyss in year one, Pulled Back from the Brink in year two and Met the Challenge of the Upturn in year three, Enda and Joan are now Securing the Recovery.
In the hope of recovering the security they enjoyed when elected with a whopping vote of confidence in 2011.
So they talked themselves up from behind their matching lecterns, announcing that the Government had fixed the public finances and got people working again.
They worked to a “clear plan”, said the Taoiseach.
“This plan is succeeding and the evidence is clear,” said the Tánaiste.
There will be a “Spring Statement” next month, followed by a string of little set-pieces as they build up to their last big-bang budget.
All Fianna Fáil’s fault – a painful legacy of their economic mismanagement of the country, said Enda. “The arsonists who set fire to our homes are now offering advice on how to extinguish the flames.”
While the Taoiseach had a go at the Fianna Fáil leader early in the afternoon, it was Micheál’s turn to get stuck into the Sinn Féin leader later on.
This was on the much darker issue of alleged sexual abuse of young people by members of the IRA and the subsequent treatment of victims by the republican movement.
Martin raised it in advance of a BBC Spotlight programme about Louth man Paudie McGahon, whose allegations mirror those of Belfast rape victim Maíria Cahill, recently honoured by the Labour Party for her bravery in telling her story and refusing to be intimated.
Gerry Adams was most sympathetic. He wondered why the Government wouldn’t go with Martin McGuinness’s suggestion of an all-island “process” for victims of sexual abuse during the “conflict”. Although what happened to Maíria Cahill and Paudie McGahon happened well after the ceasefire.
“You can’t have an amnesty on sexual abuse,” remarked the Taoiseach.
Gerry Adams fully agreed.
“Then why did you give them an amnesty for so long?” asked Martin.
It’s not been the best of starts to a Dáil week for Adams. He should have been floating around Leinster House wreathed in the love and loyalty of his party acolytes following their ardfheis in Derry at the weekend.
The event, by all accounts, was a great success: very slick and professionally executed with an upbeat membership radiating confidence for the future.
But yesterday, he devoted his time at Leaders’ Questions attempting to explain his party’s baffling decision to reject the Welfare Reform measures in the Stormont House Agreement, signed before Christmas by Sinn Féin and the rest of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It came out of the blue.
And if it hadn’t been for a fortunate “discovery” by Martin McGuinness last week, it seems Sinn Féin would have voted for this agreement even though it didn’t contain what they thought it did.
They thought it guaranteed existing welfare levels for current and future recipients. But representatives of the other parties are on record as saying that this level of guarantee wasn’t possible.
So, either Sinn Féin was sold a pup before Christmas and only noticed in the nick of time or they didn’t understand what they signed off on in the first place.
Strange turnRichard Boyd Barrett
Adams shot him a filthy look. Boyd-Barrett looked very pleased.
Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste had similar thoughts when they celebrated their fourth birthday.
“I suspect one of the issues is the fact that welfare supports in the Republic of Ireland are far stronger than welfare supports in the North of Ireland . . . and they’re quite worried that any further reductions in welfare provision in the North would make the comparison in the South even less attractive,” mused Enda.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride ahead for Sinn Féin.