No losing sight of the big picture as Portraitgate rumbles on


DAIL SKETCH:IT IS not just the recession that has sent the construction industry into a tailspin, we mused during Leaders’ Questions, in between wondering what was so different about Brian Cowen yesterday.

No, it’s not just the downturn. Builders around the country are also reporting difficulties in sourcing thick pairs of short planks. This could be because the Taoiseach has cornered the market.

The missing short planks are in Government Buildings, rejoicing in their double thickness and advising poor Biffo on how not to make friends and influence people. These highly-paid knicker-twisters specialise in taking tricky situations and making them worse.

Portraitgate is their latest success.

Certainly, in terms of deflecting attention away from their master’s stewardship of the country, Cowen’s perpetually affronted handlers scored a direct hit with Portraitgate.

However, if their intention was to contain an embarrassing situation for their boss, they failed magnificently.

Here’s how it is: The economy is in a terrible state. There’s a maxi-budget just around the corner. The unions and the Government are playing footsies again. Public servants are revolting. Private companies are closing down. Wage cuts are now more fashionable than designer handbags.

Nobody knows what the hell is going on and Brian Cowen isn’t telling. People are so frazzled, so bereft of direction, they are now beginning to ask: “What would Bertie do in this situation?” That’s how bad things are.

And then, of course, there was that nagging question: What was it about Brian Cowen that was different? The Taoiseach and Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore are growling at each other about the economy. “Nobody will be immune from the burden of adjustment that will have to be taken,” Brian tells the House.

“There have to be some goalposts here,” says Eamon. Certainly, it would be a nice way to utilise the empty space that is the Dáil chamber for the best part of every sitting day.

“It looks like we are heading for another debacle,” quivers Enda.

The Taoiseach’s mobile phone rings twice while he is on his feet during Leaders’ Question. He doesn’t take the call.

It’s probably from one of the knicker-twisters, getting in touch to tell Brian that the Garda Emergency Response Unit can be mobilised to track down the man who painted two unflattering portraits of the Taoiseach and then hung one in the National Gallery when nobody was looking.

“Shockin’, boss, shockin’. No respect for the dignity of your office. Leave it to us. We’ll lay into the media on your behalf, secure a grovelling apology from RTÉ on the nine o’clock news, berate any broadcasters who dare to mention the incident, send the rozzers into Today FM and insist they reveal the computer record of their discussions with the perpetrator.

“That’ll put a stop to the matter, boss. We’re not thick as two short planks for nothing.”

It had to be them, ringing on his mobile. Who else would call up the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions? And still we mused, watching Cowen and wondering what it was about him yesterday that was so different.

Sometimes it can be difficult to concentrate on the bigger picture in the Dáil. There is only so much talk about the economy that a body can take.

Sometimes, for example, people end up playing “Spot the Dodo” – a simple game whereby you look at the faces of the 20 junior ministers and wonder how many of them will be extinct after the Taoiseach’s next reshuffle.

Still, at least Cowen – not to mention his knicker-twisting planks – sees the bigger picture. This is good, because we need a man of real vision in these times. When tough decisions have to be made, Biffo is your man.

How dare some idiot with a paintbrush sully the dignity of the office of An Taoiseach. Who does he think he is – Bertie? Does he really think he can get away with such an outrage? Who does he think he is – Seanie FitzPatrick? Fingers Fingleton? High on their own indignation, Cowen’s knicker-twisters imposed an immediate fatwa on the man who painted a rude little picture of their boss.

In the interests of the bigger picture.

Hanging is too good for them.

Instead, expect the images to appear on a T-shirt near you before the weekend is out.

So that’s another job well done by Brian’s backroom boys.

“The powers-that-be want action taken” is what the detective garda allegedly told a Today FM producer when demanding to see all e-mails from the artist. Warrants were mentioned.

Ironically, disillusioned voters would be far more interested if the forces of law and order took some decisive action against the powers-that-be.

“Ludicrous,” Labour’s Liz McManus told the chamber, as Cowen’s knicker-twisters managed to turn what would have been a three-day wonder at most into an international news story.

The atmosphere in the House was becoming rather fraught. Early in the evening, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan asked Joan Burton outside for a fight after he said she had accused him of corruption. (He didn’t actually mention the word “fight” but he told her to take her accusations outside, the only conclusion being pistols at dawn or fisticuffs. Our money is on Joan.) And by this stage, the penny had finally dropped. We suddenly realised what was so different about the Taoiseach yesterday.

Sure we didn’t recognise him with his clothes on . . .