Hurricane Dail sweeps new boy McDowell off his feet
Published 29/09/2006 | 00:11
THAR she blows, all right. The weathermen never predicted this one. That tail-end of Hurricane Gordon last week was merely an amuse bouche for the real McCoy.
It's a foreign emotion where he's concerned but we almost felt, yes, pity for Michael McDowell.
The prize of the office of Tanaiste, that glittering globe for which he had grappled so greedily only a short while ago is, on closer inspection, looking a trifle maggotty.
Or teeming with them. Only time will tell.
For while he might have thought he was taking over the job as second Mate on Bertie's Good Ship Lollipop, it actually may turn out to be the Titanic sailing under a different flag.
It's early days of course but already there are whispers afoot that Fianna Fail's dream of a strawberries and cream election may be scuppered in favour of one for the pumpkin heads.
Also, it may be quite soon.
Conditions had worsened overnight, the Tanaiste found, after taking over the hot seat in the Dail yesterday on behalf of Bertie.
Amongst other places, the boss happened to be in - ahem, Ballyjamesduff - no doubt settling up with Paddy Reilly.
In the absence of the man himself, McDowell found himself taking a lot of the flak.
After an innocuous start with the Standing Orders in which Ceann Comhairle Rory O'Hanlon struggled valiantly to maintain a steady course, Enda Kenny came at the Tanaiste brandishing a cutlass.
Welcoming him on his first day as deputy leader of the Government, he "wished him well".
Casually, he then mentioned how while he "hoped this does not happen to Deputy McDowell", he understood the shortest serving Tanaiste in the House was the present Taoiseach, who only served 27 days in office before the then Government collapsed.
"He might make it," drily commented his Fine Gael colleague John Deasy.
The Ceann Comhairle was having a tough time in sticking to the rule book of what could or could not be discussed what with unruly backbenchers insisting the house be allowed to debate the pressing issues of Bertie and his loans/gifts since "everybody in the country" was talking about it.
The Ceann Comhairle called on Pat Rabbitte. But, remarkably, Pat Rabbitte said he would await his turn. It was now or never though and, put out, the Labour leader added he was not accustomed to the Ceann Comhairle "berating" him into speaking.
"But under the circumstances and now the Chair has called me I will try to think of something to say. I certainly do not know under what Standing Order the Chair has made this decision," he said.
The words came to mind quick enough. Would the Tanaiste spell out what he meant on radio when he said Dail Eireann would have an opportunity to discuss the controversy that has grown up around the Taoiseach's acceptance of a large sum of money for private use, Mr Rabbitte wondered.
Was there any particular reason the Tanaiste had not referred to the Manchester money in his statement?
Are we now in a situation where the Tanaiste's party is giving only qualified support to the Government?
The Green Party's John Gormley, in turn, pondered on whether the Tanaiste accepted it was fundamentally wrong for Bertie, as finance minister at the time, to accept payments for a speaking engagement in Manchester? Wouldn't he agree this was in breach of an ethical code and had he had no serious discussions with the Taoiseach on this matter.
Michael McDowell was called upon to speak. But first, Joe Higgins wanted a say. No, he had to resume his seat, insisted the Ceann Comhairle. It was not possible because it would open up a whole debate for the House.
"Democracy - the Ceann Comhairle spoke about it in Monaghan," put in Finian McGrath, reminding Rory O'Hanlon of his unfortunate bruising session at the hands of a ten-thousand-strong crowd there during the week who jeered him about the downgrading of the local hospital.
"I only wanted to ask the Tanaiste if he now officially endorses cronyism and patronage in Irish politics," said Mr Higgins innocently.
Resume your seat or leave the house, said the exasperated Ceann Comhairle, on his feet himself and waving his hand imperiously at the wayward TD.
Unreasonable, said Mr Higgins. Outrageous, added Mr McGrath. Undemocratic, chipped in Deputy Healy.
Well if they weren't happy with the Standing Orders, they knew what to do, replied the Ceann Comhairle.
"Throw us all out," shouted Brendan Howlin excitedly.
On and on it went as they called on the Tanaiste to allow them room in the schedule to talk about Bertie's scenario, each deputy drowning out the other in their urge to have their say.
"Calm down Deputy Stagg," said Michael McDowell, in turn irritating the deputies beyond belief as he took it upon himself to coolly explain to them what exactly a Standing Order was.
Condescending and sanctimonious was Fine Gael Bernard Durkan's verdict.
"The Tanaiste is having a bad day," said his colleague Pat Connaughton.
"He should get used to it," advised Olivia Mitchell. "He deserves nothing better," spat Mr Connaughton.
We take it the honeymoon is over then?