Pin-striped Buddha main star at annual love-in

Weekend Fine Gael conference was really the Michael Noonan Show


Following a successful pregnancy and a bit of a wallop, we are poised to regain our virginity on December 15th.

Time to party.

At 6pm, all across the land, people will pause, raise foaming steins to the sky and shout: “To Baldy!”

And then we will exit the bailout.

B-Day – it’ll be bigger than Christmas.

It was the main talking point at the political event of the weekend – misleadingly called a Fine Gael conference when it was really the Michael Noonan Show, with Enda and his Ministers cast in the role of supporting actors.

Incidental Enda got a warm welcome and the obligatory standing ovation for a bland keynote address; deputy leader James Reilly got a decidedly lukewarm reception (despite referring to Ireland’s recent European presidency as “our pregnancy”) but Noonan, who has assumed godlike status among the FG faithful, was the star.

Before lunch, at the cloying mutual-admiration session chaired by chirpy Mairead McGuinness, the organisers stuffed Michael into a tub chair and left him centre stage for the two hours while the minor players indulged in an orgy of self-congratulation.

There he sat, Fine Gael’s very own pin-striped Buddha, radiating contentment as the others did their stuff around him.

There was a brief interview with Mairead, who made reference to tomorrow’s budget. Nearly all done?

“Aaah, there’s bits and bobs, ya know,” he smirked. Like what? “Some bells and whistles.”

How they laughed.

Although after the budget, somebody will end up paying for those little bits and bobs. And one man’s bells and whistles could represent another’s financial breaking point.

The revered former leader was top of the bill. Mairead could hardly contain her excitement.

“We have a very important speaker to listen very carefully to, although I think sometimes his silence speaks louder than his words.”

And him about to make a speech.

When the Minister affectionately known to many as “Baldy” eventually eased himself out of his snug bucket seat, the delegates cheered. Even Enda came in for a look.

Like a fella on the next bar stool giving them a steer, Noonan took them through the finer points of our economy by way of Lanigan’s Ball, celebrity economists, Iceland, Argentina and averting the appalling vista of “middle-class decent people, who lost their jobs, searching through dustbins for food to feed their family”.

And we’ll get our sovereignty back by Christmas. Or virginity, as Calamity James probably calls it.

“So, we’re well fixed,” he drawled, with that Torquemada smile. The audience swooned.

It was the same in the evening. During the build-up to the Taoiseach’s appearance, master of ceremonies Jerry Buttimer introduced him as “the Paul O’Connell of Irish politics” and the crowd responded with a thunderous standing ovation.

The Minister for Health was next. There was a marked difference in the reception he received from the delegates.

The only chance James Reilly had of getting a standing ovation on Saturday night was if somebody set off the fire alarm.

Although earlier in the day, in the lobby of Limerick’s South Court Hotel, we heard a Fine Gael official shout: “Can we have a band for Minister Reilly?”

It turned out they were looking for a security wristband for him rather than some more brass and wind to complement his performance.

Enda bounded on to the platform like a two-year-old, eager to spread the good news – specifically, the whereabouts of the emergency exit. We’ll be out of the EU-IMF bailout on December 15th. It’s the feast-day of St Maximinus, and now it’s going to be Raise a Glass to Baldy Day.

Unfortunately, anti-abortion protesters roaring loudly outside the hotel proved a distraction for much of the Taoiseach’s address.

They kept up the noise for the first half of his speech. Staff rushed to fully close the red drapes, but it made no difference.

“Enda, Enda, Enda! Out, Out, Out!” “Shame, Shame, Shame!” Sometimes, there was a strange howling sound, as if somebody was keening into a megaphone.

People wondered if it might be Joan Burton looking for a fight about the budget, or perhaps Lucinda, just looking for a fight.

The protesters – bless their lungs – positioned some distance from the hotel grounds kept up their chants, much to the outrage of party officials.

Then suddenly, the noise stopped. There was absolute silence. What happened? Did the police confiscate the megaphone? Was the group – standing in a public area – shunted out of earshot?

We couldn’t find out. Although an annoyed handler reported “there was loads of priests and nuns among them”.

Enda told us afterwards that he could hear the noise while he was speaking. But it wasn’t the first time this has happened to him so he wasn’t bothered.

Apart from naming the date for B-Day, the Taoiseach made another momentous announcement. “And so to the future, where we all have to live.”

Unfortunately, nobody in FG got the memo. They spent the entire two days obsessing about Fianna Fáil and its sins of the past. Micheál Martin and his tiny band of deputies will be most flattered by the attention.

After a low-key finish, Enda stood alone at the podium. Then, as the audience applauded, he beckoned somebody towards him. We assumed it would be his wife, Fionnuala, summoned for the traditional post speech peck on the cheek.

But no – it was Michael Noonan. Mercifully, there was just a handshake.

The Taoiseach didn’t stay too late in the bar. Like Cinderella, he left at midnight.

But not before a long chat with Noonan, who was swamped by admirers all evening.

Yesterday morning, just as James Reilly was being driven away from the hotel, Enda arrived in his Merc, almost hemming in Reilly’s jag.

They both got out and had a discussion in the car park – Enda wearing a fixed smile as he spoke.

Just talking about bits and bobs and B-Day . . .