There's political turbulence in the air – or is it cabinet fever?
THE ministers were all sporting the class of wide-eyed, innocent expressions more usually found on the grimy face of a Dickens urchin gazing through a toy shop window on a snowy Christmas Eve.
And despite the muffled wail of an alarm roaring 'STALL, STALL' and an ominous plume of smoke emanating from the engine of the plane, a trio of political pilots were insisting that there was no turbulence at all at all in the coalition cockpit.
For the final run-up to Budget Day is the most precarious of times for a coalition government as it navigates carefully through thunderous tantrums, Labour lightning, and Fine Gael hail. Not to mention the sudden squalls caused by an outbreak of leaks.
Much of the public utterances are coded (negotiations with Cabinet are "robust", meaning there's a bit of roaring and shouting around the table), or cliched ("nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out", "it will be tough but fair").
But occasionally inter-party bickering and backbiting spills out messily onto the public thoroughfare like an after-pub scrap in a chipper. And so stories began to emerge that the Labour lads have been busily giving the punch-drunk James Reilly yet another verbal kicking during the haggling sessions over the Budget.
It was alleged that during a "robust" parliamentary party meeting, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn awarded his colleague an F for Fail by agreeing that James Reilly "was not up to the job".
Uh-oh – was that the sound of an ejector-seat button being pressed? Even as it's being buffeted by a bumpy patch caused by serious disagreement over how to deal with the X case ruling, is the already-stressed political plane about to go into a tailspin?
Yesterday Ruairi was clearly unwilling to add any further to the turbulence. He was sporting a face so stony that surely Mount Rushmore is missing a president.
He had arrived in the Irish Film Institute in Temple Bar to launch a report, but rapidly found himself the star of the media show. But the minister decided to make like mime artist Marcel Marceau.
Not a word would he utter on his alleged criticism of his cabinet colleague. He would confirm or deny nothing, and the reporters could all go sing.
"The proceedings of the Labour Party parliamentary party are confidential," he said somewhat preposterously, given that all the parliamentary party pow-wows leak more copiously than the post-iceberg Titanic.
"It's usually a robust exchange of views and opinions, and they are not open to the public, and I'm not commenting," he declared.
Ruairi dug in his heels. "I'm not going to confirm or deny or in any way change my comment that I made repeatedly about Dr Jim Reilly," he stated. "He has both my confidence and my sympathy."
Across the Liffey, Leo Varadkar and Richard Bruton were in the National Convention Centre to announce plans for the future of Shannon Airport and Shannon Development – but it was the future of the coalition flight-path which was of greatest interest at the press conference.
So was there trouble in political paradise then, ministers? Leo chuckled at the very thought. "I think to quote the inimitable Mary O'Rourke, we're all glued together," he said merrily.
Richard was more earnest. Of course, he admitted, "there are robust exchanges, but people would expect us to stress-test any new proposals," he said. "That's what we do in government – it's a very cordial way of doing it."
So it hurts them more than it'll hurt us? Humph, a likely story. That'll never fly with the plane people of Ireland.