Thursday 27 October 2016

Brace yourself for spooks aplenty in the 'Nightmare on Kildare Street' frightfest

Published 29/10/2015 | 02:30


I have just been inspired. If Panti Bliss and Conor Horgan can make a feature film 'Queen of Ireland' from docu-drama material of real-life political events, I can surely pen my film script. 'House of Horrors' will set out to capture the likely shenanigans in the next Leinster House with the formation of a Cabinet. Obviously, the onset of Hallowe'en has informed my thinking. Unfortunately, the leading figures at my disposal won't make for an epic Hollywood blockbuster with Warner Brothers - I'll set my sights instead on a tragi-comedy and a more humble pitch to the Irish Film Board.

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The opening scene: Enda emerges from the Áras (Michael D has dutifully returned from another foreign sojourn). Enda has finessed his 'five-point plan' down to a three-point agenda of 'stability, stability, stability'.

He recalls recent nightmares from which we escaped, due in no small part to his heroics. "One Friday night, ESB bosses rang to warn the lights could all go out, there was no money in the meter."

He tells further harrowing tales of how he met an elderly woman on a trolley whose life was transformed by plans for Universal Health Insurance and Dr James Reilly's bedside manner. His handlers rapidly ensure that Enda will be out of sight for the rest of campaign.

Voters are bewildered by a blizzard of promises from mundane manifestos. Here is a sample of some of the fare on offer: abolish the property tax, as well as Irish Water, the universal social charge, hospital waiting lists, motor tax and bail. There will be houses for all, full employment, national pension schemes and extra elderly residential care.

A disbelieving public form into two distinct parallel constituencies. There is the 'squeezed middle', who want less tax, and the 'squashed bottom', who demand that others pay for welfare and public services through higher taxes.

The most excitement during the dull winter campaign is generated by the leaders' TV debate. Weeks of wrangling, with Enda refusing to participate in head-to-head combat, conclude with an all-party scrum, in which even Nigel Owen can't decipher who is cheating. Miriam O' Callaghan is reduced to the role of a crowd-control steward as 13 putative leaders go at it.

Social Democrats demand that each of their three co-leaders have equal billing. Pundits give a 'score draw' verdict; exactly as FG handlers desired, a non-event.

The decisive opinion shift comes in the 'closing arguments'. Bamboozled viewers cling on to the wreckage, thus the 'stability' mandate becomes the central issue, but not quite as anticipated.

FG/Labour's case falls asunder as it becomes clear that nothing can save Labour from oblivion.

Nothing works. Not polling-day deferral, a giveaway Budget, smearing Sinn Féin, leadership change, Christmas welfare bonus, a transfer pact, the restoration of public-service pay; all of these measures come to naught.

Labour's fate is sealed in the same way as the PDs in 2007 or the Greens in 2011. 'Stability' is now the campaign's boomerang. For, as the smoke clears, it is plain that the only stable government formation, when the mathematics are complete, involves Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The screenplay now fast-forwards to the post-election drama. So now we find that when the 32nd Dáil resumes, amongst 158 TDs are fifty-something FGers, thirty-something FFers, twenty-something SFers; plus a veritable tsunami of new faces: women, youngsters and a motley crew of Independents/micro-party TDs. Alas, there is only a handful of Labour TDs.

When Enda realises that his dead administration hasn't the numbers, he invites 'like-minded' parties to talks to put the country first. There are gasps, as no one agrees to participate. They all want parity of esteem - thus he will be reduced to the role of an interim acting Taoiseach, having been defeated on the first Dáil vote.

It is not looking good. Agreement can't even be reached on the election of a ceann comhairle. FG and FF refuse to nominate, in order to preserve their parliamentary strengths. The Independent Alliance nominates Finian McGrath. Defeat ensues due to the selfless intervention of Brendan Howlin. He persuades both former Coalition colleagues to recognise his skills as a former leas ceann comhairle and erstwhile government-programme architect.

He convinces all that his selection would heal all of those niggling civil-war wounds. Brendan becomes the great survivor of Irish politics, as Joan & Co vanish.

All good movie moguls demand dramatic unexpected twists. Tragedy strikes unexpectedly for our leading lad (please let Pat Shortt play Enda).

Amidst confusion, crisis, game-playing and the frightful prospects of another election, a rumble becomes a riot within FG's parliamentary party. There are bitter recriminations over bottling it on a November poll. This leads to a series of campaign 'flashback' gaffes, broken promises of ministerial jobs and a resurfacing of factional fights in the failed 2010 'bloody war' all come together.

This all produces the inevitable revolt, which ends in true classic western-shootout style.

Our 'femme fatale' then emerges (extra lighting)... Frances Fitzgerald, brilliantly played by Victoria Smurfit. She makes herself (serenely) available in the national interest to serve as our first female Taoiseach. Mickey Martin, having spent the entire campaign vowing never, ever to coalesce with the ancient enemy, now explains that he had to say that in order to retain anti-government voters.

His national duty now is evident. What? To avoid a protracted period of damaging uncertainty; prevent imminent collapse of the markets, investment and employment; but most of all keep those nasty Shinners out of power.

His plan for jobs? Himself as Tánaiste, five full FF cabinet ministers, a FF attorney-general, a super-junior FF minister, along with six FF ministers for State.

Their joint programme for government heralds not merely a democratic revolution, but an historic mould-breaker to suitably commemorate 2016.

By symbolically discarding an inter-generational legacy of mutual antipathy, they would make the ultimate political sacrifice to safeguard the nation. Heady stuff.

And the happy ending: FF and FG rapidly assimilate each other's economic, budgetary, health and crime policies. The little people return to real life for another five years, convinced it is all in their best interests. It just means new actors, but a familiar story line.

You decide: fact or fiction.

Irish Independent

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