Sunday 4 December 2016

No lavish fare for Brian -- but then he has a lot on his plate

Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00

NO morning radio interviews, no early photo opportunities -- and for the first time ever, no cosy little breakfast rendezvous at the Department of Finance HQ, the nerve centre of the day's operations.

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Lean times, indeed.

In the boom years, this repast consisted of a lavish spread of freshly squeezed orange juice, newly baked pastries and strong brewed coffee, with a hearty fry-up fit for the ringmasters of the Tiger -- the minister and his cabinet colleagues -- before posing jovially for the first of the day's many happy snapshots.

Our reduced circumstances led this to be replaced in more recent years with discount store orange juice, sachets of instant coffee and purple snack bars.

Now, nothing but a solitary bowl of gruel at the kitchen sink.

Amid the frozen wastelands, the Department of Finance doors remain obstinately shut, with the first public event scheduled for 2.30pm -- sure the day is half over by then.

9am

Brian Lenihan sits down privately with his cabinet colleagues for an all-morning meeting.

If there are any howls of anguish, they are drowned out by the beep-beep of a cherry picker crane gardai are moving away from its position on Kildare Street where it was parked in protest.

Then it's another briefing with the TDs in the Dail as Brian confirms to them what has already been the subject of a thousand leaks.

A spot of lunch at his desk follows and he enjoys a bit of a breather, with something suitably austere along the lines of soup and sandwiches sent up from the canteen.

2.30pm

The first opportunity of the day to see the minister and to gauge his mood.

He is 10 minutes late for the photocall at Government Buildings where the fountain is still trickling merrily away. Maybe Brian is hoping that the sound of the water will drown out any unwelcome questions. This is, after all, only a photocall, as he subsequently reminds.

Finally, he is spotted at the doors and cameras are poised at the ready. Then there is a disbelieving "Ooh" as the minister appears to change his mind and turns away. Bottling it? No, as it turns out -- he had just gone to the wrong doors, which are locked against the icy gales.

Unsmilingly, Brian picks his way painstakingly down the steps and avoids a large block of ice at the bottom. He is wearing a dark suit, a blue shirt and -- perhaps a bad decision, this -- a financier's sombre stripy tie.

"You're happy here are you?" he asks the photographers. He means his position for their shots -- but they can still find no reply. Who'll know if they're happy until they finally know the pain they're facing?

Without further ado, the minister unzips the utilitarian, nay ugly, brown leather folder -- whatever happened to Charlie McCreevy's sumptuous handcrafted black leather budget box? -- revealing his creation.

Everyone is speechless at the hideous sight with its ghostly, out-of-focus graphics in bilious green.

The image seems to depict a ladder leading up to a plummeting, sickening slide down to a bottomless abyss.

Someone having a bit of fun at the Government's expense in the graphics department, perhaps, or maybe it was a genuine bid to explain to future generations what this recession actually feels like.

In any case, it is not helpful, and maybe they should stick to a plain cover in future -- maybe in a nice tasteful Kelly green.

"How much pain is in there, minister?" someone shouts, but is ignored as Brian poses this way and that for the cameras.

Another question is asked, prompting the minister to reprovingly remind the gathering: "This is not a press conference."

"Just a photocall," his adviser further clarifies crossly.

3.54pm

The minister gets to his feet to address the Dail with his opening speech on Budget 2011. Like every year since 2008, he has spurned the opportunity to change his tie and is still sporting his banker stripes but on TV his blue shirt looks lilac.

This has been a traumatic and worrying time for the citizens of this country, he says, but there were "clear signs of hope" even in this time of crisis.

But domestic demand remains weak as households and businesses "continue to work off the excesses of the boom". An indignant "Humph" echoes around the nation.

But with our pain threshold now as high as it is -- and with the leaks as heavy as they have been -- the Budget leaves most feeling numb.

As the floor opens to the opposition, we wonder if it runs through his mind that this is highly likely to be his last budget foray.

His political legacy will be forever intertwined with the spectacular collapse of the Tiger economy, his reputation taking yet another battering in recent days, with the 'Financial Times' rating him as the worst finance minister in Europe.

7pm

Brian Lenihan is running half-an-hour late for the scheduled press conference at Government Buildings, but when he arrives, is looking pretty good after his gruelling day.

He tells the assembled journalists that he didn't even have time to take part in the first vote on the Budget because he was too busy dealing with the media.

He takes the hard questions from the economists and then it's off for a quick bite to eat before heading on for an interview with Miriam O'Callaghan on 'Prime Time'.

Irish Independent

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