First apology for the Fianna Fail Gruffalo who minded his Ps and Qs but forgot about Fs
Published 22/05/2008 | 05:00
OOOPS. All of a sudden there was an extra Eff in Biffo. As he stood to leave the Dail chamber after a particularly rowdy Leader's Questions, Brian turned to his consigliere, sorry Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, and muttered "ring those people and get a handle on it will you. Bring in all those f**kers," he ordered, sounding less like the leader of the country and more like a wiseguy who works in waste management in New Jersey.
There was much confusion in the aftermath of his outburst of Soprano-speak.
Just who was he referring to? Was he planning to persuade Fine Gael -- who had given him a torrid time of it during questions -- to swap their blueshirts for some concrete overcoats?
But it later transpired that the offending effers in question were either oil companies or the National Consumer Agency -- which counts Celia Larkin among its board members -- who were being threatened with a prolonged sleep with the fishes.
After a bit of a bumbling performance in the Dail on Tuesday, Brian Cowen unleashed his inner Gruffalo (Grumpy Rude Uncensored Fellow From Around Laois Offaly) yesterday.
He had minded his Ps & Qs for a full 13 days since becoming Taoiseach, but he had forgotten to keep an eye on his Fs.
The whiff of sulphur was in the air from the start of question time and it quickly became clear that the Taoiseach was gunning for a scrap.
It's also becoming apparent that the bearded face of Fine Gael's health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, gets on Brian's wick in the same fashion that indefatigable heckler Joe Higgins regularly got up the nose of his predecessor Bertie. Nor was his mood improved by a few barbs which found their mark.
As Mary Coughlan who was seated beside him offered some quiet advice, Enda called out across the chamber: "I see her whispering in your ear. I hope she's giving you accurate information," he jibed, having a go at the Tanaiste's gaffe of the previous day when she muddled the number of European Commissioners there are from each country. As soon as Brian rose to answer a question from Enda Kenny on the allocation of funding for palliative care and mental health, he got stuck in.
"The problem with the leader of the opposition is that his party has not yet supported one initiative in regard to health service reform," he snapped, provoking an immediate babble of protest from across the chamber floor.
"The Taoiseach keeps accusing people of playing the man and not the ball. He should play the ball himself," suggested James Reilly, his beard wagging with righteous indignation. But Brian wasn't in the mood to play ball. He wanted a bit of a ruck.
"For Deputy Reilly's attention, I can organise it so that every time his man completes a sentence, I can have people roaring and shouting on this side if he wants," he retorted with all the maturity of a schoolyard gurrier. My gang is louder than your gang, so there.
But James wasn't afraid and barracked Brian furiously as steam slowly began to emanate from Brian's ears.
"Listen to me, I want to answer the question but I will make one point," he growled, aiming a warning finger in the direction of the noisy deputy.
"If you keep that tactic up, I will make sure he will not be heard in this House. It can be organised," he said ominously, prompting visions of Enda finding Shergar's dismembered head in his bed one night in the near future. An outraged Enda sprang to his feet. "The Taoiseach will not silence the people on this side of the House. I am not going to take that from any Member of this House," he declared.
"The Taoiseach will not silence the Fine Gael Party or any of its members," he added feistily.
But the Gruffalo was in full flight, and he was on a mission to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. The message was clear -- no more Mr Nice Guy. Bertie had taken his ball home and there was a new king in the schoolyard.
"I will not be shouted down by the orchestrated tactic engaged in by the opposition for months," he scoffed. "That will not work with me".
And yet his predecessor managed to do battle with the enemy for 11 years in the Dail chamber without ever letting slip a serious curse -- the closest Bertie came to swearing during Question Time was in May 2006 when he was being harangued about crime rates by his nemesis Joe Higgins and he whispered an exasperated "Jesus Christ" into the waiting microphone.
Even when the questions moved on, and Eamon Gilmore gave him a grilling about the disparity of prices charged to Irish consumers by British retailers and oil companies, it was evident that Brian was still seething.
This is obviously why a politician of his experience made such a basic boo-boo as swearing in a room full of microphones and a press gallery of flapping ears.
Less than two weeks in the job and Brian has made his first apology. Sure his curse wasn't personal, it was strictly business.
It's the Touchy and Tetchy Show: Page 28