Irish News

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Portraitgate: just who called who is finally laid bare

Published 01/04/2009 | 00:00

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It's the story that just won't die. No matter how many times various interested parties try to drive a stake through its heart, it is still rising indefatigably from its crypt to bury its fangs into Brian.

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Despite the fact Portraitgate broke over a week ago, until yesterday afternoon the Taoiseach had uttered only one single word on the whole palaver.

For when he was asked last week if he had any views on guerrilla artist Conor Casby's nude paintings, on the RTE news report on the same, on the station's subsequent dramatic mea culpa, on the bizzies quizzing Today FM staff for information Brian's reply was admirably succinct.

"No," quoth he.

But if Brian thought that a cunning silence would send the whole sorry affair into exile, then he knew he was sadly mistaken almost as soon as Taoiseach's Questions kicked off in the Dail yesterday afternoon.

The first question he was called upon to answer concerned the number of staff employed in the Government Information Service (GIS) -- which provided the opposition with a serendipitous opportunity to torture the Taoiseach by demanding he account for the movements of his press secretary and phone-calls to the Montrose moguls.

Enda Kenny began his question innocently enough, but suddenly lobbed over a quick grenade.

"It appears as though the Government press secretary did contact the national television broadcaster regarding an apology to the Taoiseach in respect of a matter that took place in the National Gallery. Was this the case?" he enquired.

The ceann comhairle must've thought he was suffering from a bout of deja vu. He had spent last week quashing out of order questions on this delicate matter.

"We will not go into that. The deputy will ask what they had for their breakfast next," intoned John O'Donoghue. "Deputy Kenny should ask a question that is relevant".

Enda tried to look offended. "I have no intention of asking about their breakfast or any other meal," he assured the ceann comhairle.

"I am asking a legitimate question about an officer who is appointed as part of the Government Information Service and I wish to know whether the Government press secretary contacted the national broadcaster to state that what it had done to the Taoiseach was wrong and that it should apologise," explained Enda, trying to put a dignified spin on a bit of mischief-making.

Then behind him, Fine Gael's curmudgeon-in-chief Padraic McCormack piped up in defence of his leader.

"All he wants is the bare facts!" he roared naughtily.

"Then I strongly suggest he puts down the bare question," riposted John with some asperity.

But even Brian -- no slouch at one-liners himself -- was impressed with the backbencher's barb.

"Well done Padraic -- it's one of your better efforts," he replied wryly.

So perhaps as a reward, the Taoiseach decided to throw the opposition a bone.

"As for the press secretary, he was not acting on my instruction or that of any minister and nor did he seek an apology, as RTE itself decided to do that," he stated.

Enda wasn't quite satisfied and demanded that Brian elaborate about what went on between his staff and RTE. Irked, the Taoiseach pointed out to the Fine Gael leader that "Just as with Deputy Kenny's own press officers, there is a fair bit of contact between them".

"That's all justified," sniffed Enda self-righteously.

Brian shot him a dark look. "When Deputy Kenny's man does it, it is justified but when my man does it, it is not justified," he muttered, making his 'man' sound like some sort of put-upon Jeeves to his own muddle-headed Bertie Wooster -- which means that in answering the vexed question of who rang whom, Brian has finally confirmed that the butler did it.

But alas, reality had to intrude, and by Leaders Questions later in the afternoon, both sides of the chamber were grimly contemplating the harsh judgment of the credit ratings agency Standard & Poors who took a gold star off the national copybook this week.

Enda wondered if the Taoiseach agreed with the analyst, "whose words can change the market overnight, that there is no confidence in the Irish Government, that the Taoiseach has failed to deal with the economic challenges of the country, that he has presided over a disastrous banking system, that we have had a calamitous loss of competitiveness and that the Taoiseach should go?"

Brian begged to differ. "I have no comment on the gentleman from the credit rating agency other than to note that his job concerns credit rating.

"I do not know what he knows about Irish politics or what the choices are," he sniped, expertly taking aim at both the analyst and the opposition benches.

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