WHEN word first came through, I was still half asleep. It had been a bad night. Worrying about the state of the economy, I was. Sure, you know how it is yourself. Standing in the kitchen, spooning coffee and wondering what fresh terrors the day will bring.
In the background, Morning Ireland was inflicting more bad news on us. Bankers, Syria, bad driving and crap weather. Then, they were telling us what was in the newspapers and as I realised the gravity of what had happened I dropped my spoon, scattering coffee, and said a dirty word.
The Taoiseach had been assaulted.
But, assault? There's no need for that.
When the gods were arranging our destiny, they found it amusing to give us Bertie Ahern as leader, a man who couldn't see beyond the next election. Followed by Brian Cowen, a man made for easy times. Then, they chuckled as they decided the next Taoiseach, in an era demanding courage and fresh thinking, should be a man who was a TD for 36 years, with no noticeable effect.
But, hardly reason for assault. We can settle our differences, surely, through civilised discourse. No need for fisticuffs.
I struggled in vain, such was my distress, to hear the detail from the radio. That word -- assault -- drove out all else. What was starkly undeniable was that a high State official, whose name I didn't catch, had made a startling accusation -- that the Taoiseach had been assaulted by one Ursula Halligan, political editor of TV3.
I bowed my head in shame. It was one of us, a journalist, who had brought things to this sorry state. All across the country, citizens shook their heads -- and the reputation of my
trade sank below that of bankers.
It happened, apparently, in the vicinity of the National Library, a central repository of much that fashioned the nation's soul.
I must admit, I felt sorrow for Ursula. She's one of those wholehearted people who believes that journalism has a positive role, that it involves a public duty for those of us lucky enough to work in the media. She believes in truth, openness, accuracy and fairness -- the kind of stuff that some people, and most politicians, find quite unnecessary.
And now, she'd lost her grip and assaulted the Taoiseach. Ursula, of all people. . .
I tried to picture it. Mr Kenny approaching the National Library, perhaps intending to consult a back issue of Ireland's Own for a recipe for potato cakes. Halligan darts forward, no doubt her mind warped by the weight of the country's troubles. And she punches the Taoiseach in the face.
In my mind, I could see him on the ground, shocked, bloody, looking up in horror as Halligan drew a large machete from inside her jacket.
After some sustained and diligent investigative journalism -- which mostly involved buying Friday's Daily Mail and Evening Herald and yesterday's Irish Times -- I believe I have uncovered at least some of the facts.
Apparently, Mr Kenny approached the National Library flanked by some officers of that small army assigned to protect him from himself. There was a Mr Kennelly, who advises him what to think; a Mr Purcell, who advises him what to say; and Phil Hogan, a very big, surly man. If a large fraction of your party thinks you're not up to the job, Phil's the man to whip them back into line. Even Phil's smile is aggressive. When Phil passes by, flowers wither and small children weep.
Between them, Mr Hogan, Mr Kennelly and Mr Purcell cost us €457,000 a year. To protect the €200,000 Taoiseach.
There was an assemblage of journalists. Doorstepping, it's called. Mr Kenny appeared to make himself available for questioning. Perhaps he had some words rehearsed about the debt markets or ECB interest rates. Ms Halligan asked him a question on gay marriage. And Mr Kenny appeared to move abruptly away.
At which point, a number of journalists surged forward, Halligan to the fore, asking questions.
Now, down the years, I've done a bit of journalistic surging. I learned the hard way that if you throw questions at politicians they ignore the troublesome ones and answer the easy ones. And Enda Kenny -- well, I know the principle is to hold him to account, but the man seems constitutionally incapable of answering a question in his own words.
He runs away from televised debates. He's protected by a phalanx of minders. Even with expensive media training, Enda appears to rely on a list of phrases tattooed on the inside of his eyelids. "Meeting our targets . . . Best small country in which to do business . . . Wave goodbye to the IMF . . . Heart of Europe . . ."
Still, my colleagues with daily deadlines do their best to get the man to say anything unrehearsed, about any bloody thing. Respectfully, I disagree. The best course is to leave Enda alone. Ignore his pre-packed, chilled and reheated words.
Accountability, engagement with the public realm, proposing, explaining and defending a political position, is the essence of democracy. The contrived political product that bears the name of Enda Kenny has demeaned the notion of political accountability. To engage with such a manufactured entity, a pure product of advanced spin doctoring, is to collaborate.
Anyway, Soapbox can exclusively reveal the cause of the controversy.
It appears that Mr Kenny's tattooist -- who adds to and subtracts from the stock of removable tattoos on the inside of Mr Kenny's eyelids -- was on leave last week, at his timeshare apartment in Fuengirola. In his absence, Mr Kenny was ill-equipped to answer unscheduled questions, so he reared back.
As Enda moved away and the media followed him, he appears to have almost tripped over a flowerpot.
This upset the spin doctors, who -- I'm not kidding -- are reported to have complained about Ms Halligan to her boss. Her conduct was "disgraceful". She was "leading a charge" of journalists. This was "tantamount to assault".
Here's Miriam Lord's description of what happened: "Nobody came near to touching the Taoiseach."
And: "Ursula, who never laid a finger on the Taoiseach, got quite a buffeting when one of his aides bumped heavily into her."
Okay, the word you're looking for is "farce". Clowns, too, that might cover it. Knuckleheads, self-important gobshites -- that works for me.
If the Taoiseach feels it necessary to pay huge amounts of money to unelected people to accompany him in his perambulations, there's not a lot we can do about it. The people who could object -- the elected parliament -- have the guts of a soft toy.
But we are in a period as perilous as any in the history of the State. And in place of debate, argument, political engagement -- we have control freakery, centred around a Taoiseach delivered onto us by gods with a very odd sense of humour.