Lise Hand: Doc left home alone as Kenny fails to shake off ghostly beard
WHAT'S a head of Government to do? There was the Taoiseach standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Brussels bigwig Jose Manuel Barroso, who was heaping praise upon him for his "steadfast determination" in steering the ship of state between the IMF icebergs, and addressing him affectionately as "my dear Enda", even -- when a ghostly beard drifted into the press conference like the portentous shade of Hamlet's father.
The question was simple -- did the Taoiseach have confidence in James Reilly? Enda looked sombre. The focus had switched from Brussels to Balbriggan in an instant, and not in a good way. Perhaps it's time that James, like a packet of 20 cigs, should come with his own government health warning: THIS MINISTER IS HARMFUL TO COALITIONS.
"The Government has given absolute backing to Minister Reilly," he chanted, not for the first time in recent days. But there's no getting away from the Health Minister, not even in Belgium, not even when James was left cooling his heels at home while a whopping 11 members of the Cabinet headed off on an away-day to Brussels.
And then to add to the hoohah, at the very time yesterday afternoon that Enda was hobnobbing with the various EU poobahs, up flew two separate rockets from two Labour MEPs, Phil Prendergast and Nessa Childers, both calling for the hapless head of the Health Minister in the wake of the latest primary care centre carry-on. However, Phil insisted that the timing was "absolutely coincidental" and also that she had no idea her colleague was about to release a similar statement. "There comes a point when any minister who engages in certain behaviour can't go on in government," she declared, defending her attack.
As it turned out, the mutinous MEP is in Dublin, having flown in from Brussels yesterday morning on the same Aer Lingus flight that had earlier transported the Taoiseach to the Belgian capital.
Enda was on that flight as some worried souls in the Department of Defence had suggested splitting the large group between the government jet and commercial flights, in case a stray SCUD missile should take out all our rulers in one unmerciful bang.
Which could leave Taoiseach Reilly running the country.
Of course, the trouble with flying commercial as opposed to using one's own jet (or the people's jet, given that it's the tax-payer who keeps the yoke in fuel) is that one never knows just whom one will bump into on board an aircraft filled with all sorts of suspicious characters.
And so when Enda boarded the Aer Lingus flight -- along with Phil Hogan and a clutch of staff -- to Brussels at an ungodly hour yesterday dawn-time, he no doubt planned either to catch a few ZZZZs or strategise about his meetings with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman van Rompuy.
But he discovered there were gimlet-eyed reporters sitting directly behind him, twitching ears turned all the way up to 11.
However, Enda loves a bit of a chat, so when the air hostess arrived with the trolley of goodies, he struck up a conversation. She, on the other hand, had more weighty matters on her mind. "Are you going to tax the children's allowance?" she asked anxiously, albeit politely.
Oh dear. Tax at 35,000 feet. But at least she didn't ask about James Reilly -- Enda might've opted to self-exit via the ejector seat.
But it was a busy day in Brussels. As part of the preparations for Ireland taking over the baton of the EU Presidency in January, the posse of travelling ministers were all scheduled to hold meetings with their Commission counterparts over a working lunch in the iconic Berlaymont building, with some ministers visiting MEPs in the nearby European Parliament.
For some ministers, it was literally a flying visit -- by mid-afternoon Joan Burton was on her way to Luxembourg for a council meeting on employment policy, while a quartet -- Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan, Leo Varadkar and Phil Hogan -- hustled for the Aer Lingus afternoon flight home.
The rest -- the Taoiseach, Pat Rabbitte, Brendan Howlin, Simon Coveney and Lucinda Creighton -- all hopped on the jet later in the evening, after Enda had given a speech to the International Institute of European Affairs (IIEA).
Was there a sing-song on the jet on the way home? Unlikely. Although both Presidents Barroso and van Rompuy were very encouraging on the thorny issue of sorting out our bank debt, all it would have taken was three little words to bring the smile-high club back to earth with a clatter.
Doctor. James. Reilly.