Sinn Féin's sucker punch takes the wind out of Taoiseach but no doubt he's forgotten it already


DÁIL SKETCH:Swanky Shinners sink a hole in one as Cowen’s memory fails to conjure up elephant in the room

DID YOU hear the one about the Taoiseach, the three big noises from Anglo and the Central Bank director? No? And did you hear the one about the swanky Sinn Féin wedding, Anglo the elephant and the driver who ate the dinner? No? And you would never have heard them either, had you been relying on Brian Cowen to fill you in.

The Taoiseach, for all his protestations of openness and transparency, had no intention of spilling the beans until Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin put him on the spot in the Dáil yesterday.

For a man who passionately insists he has nothing to hide, Biffo is a dab hand at sweeping salient facts under the carpet.

He spent a lengthy Leaders’ Questions stressing he has been completely up front with all the details of his contacts with representatives from Anglo Irish Bank in the run-up to the blanket bank guarantee. He bridled at suggestions he was less than forthcoming, accusing the Opposition of trying to damage him personally with “a patently absurd conspiracy theory”.

Furthermore, while he may have played golf with a director and former director of Anglo Irish Bank, before dining with them afterwards, he is adamant they never talked about the aforementioned financial institution, which was going down the tubes.

Yes, he met Seán FitzPatrick and others from the stricken bank, but there was nothing to it, outside the fevered imaginations of his Opposition detractors. He said their disgraceful accusations against him and the party he reveres were politically motivated.

Of course they are. What does the tribal Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil think he does for a living? Brian Cowen has been involved in a lot of scrapes since his unfortunate term of office began, nearly all of his own making.

When the inevitable reckoning rolls around at Leaders’ Questions, he routinely dismisses criticism from his opponents as political opportunism. He is never to blame for anything. There are never serious questions to answer.

In the world according to Biffo, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore are simply playing the political game. That seems to be the Taoiseach’s answer to everything when he’s under pressure in the chamber.

But sometimes, when his opponents aren’t hopping the ball, they have very valid questions that cannot be waved away just because the Taoiseach dislikes the motives and political breeding of the men asking them.

Yesterday was a case in point. There are valid reasons for asking what exactly was Brian Cowen’s connection with the money men from Anglo Irish Bank – billions of reasons, to be precise. But he didn’t like being asked them yesterday and went on the attack when pressed.

The story of the Taoiseach’s golf outing with two Anglo directors has received huge publicity since it broke at the weekend – one would have expected him to have every detail at his fingertips for yesterday’s Dáil showdown on the matter.

He didn’t. He sounded nervous, giving rambling and unsatisfactory replies, but he appeared to do enough to limp away from Leaders’ Questions relatively unharmed. Then Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin leader in Leinster House, blindsided him with a speculative tackle.

It turned out that Sleeveen attended a wedding in Druids Glen on the same day as Brian Cowen, Seán FitzPatrick and Fintan Drury enjoyed their threesome on the course.

“It was a big Sinn Féin wedding,” a party activist told us. “Pearse Doherty was the best man.”

The Shinners have come a long way from pints in the Widow Scallans. Good for them. In Druids Glen the dress code is very definitely Tiochfaidh Armani.

So. Sinn Féin was in one part of the hotel and the Anglo Irish Bank glitterati were in the other. But let us be clear, the only bandits in the vicinity were the ones playing down their handicaps on the golf course.

There was precious little detail on the golf dinner from the Taoiseach yesterday. It was presumed that he ate in the company of FitzPatrick and Drury – one current and one recently serving Anglo director.

But Sleeveen wasn’t so sure, as he had gone into the restaurant and spoken to the Taoiseach at his table. “Was there anybody else involved in the company, because it was apparent to me that there were a number of people in the wider company and more than two . . .”

There was a sharp intake of breath from all sides. We half expected Sleeveen to inform us that Col Mustard was later found beaten to death with a candlestick in the library.

It was then that Brian Cowen had to ’fess up. They were joined by Gary McGann, another director of Anglo and Alan Gray, a director of the Central Bank.

But it must be stressed that the business of Anglo Irish Bank was never discussed by this distinguished group of men, even though Anglo was on the verge of collapse and was later bailed out by Cowen’s Government because it believed it to be of systemic importance to the survival of our banking system.

A Garda driver was also present. Unlike the Mahon tribunal, we understand he did eat the dinner. We do not know who picked up the tab for the food and drink, although some might argue that we’re all paying for it now.

According to reports from Druids Glen, we hear that the dinner was pleasant enough but the smell from Anglo the elephant was chronic. This is the elephant that entered the room with the Taoiseach and the bankers but was ignored for the entire evening.

Staff rose magnificently to the occasion, serving the Taoiseach’s table with the minimum of fuss while Jumbo trumpeted and flapped his ears throughout.

They saw and heard nothing.

Unbelievable, but there you are. So unbelievable that the Taoiseach nearly forgot about it and it hadn’t been for the swanky Shinners, we still wouldn’t have known.

The elephant was later removed from the room and shot.

Why? Because an elephant never forgets. That would never do.