Saturday 22 October 2016

John Drennan: Emperor Enda lords it over ailing Eamon

Far from quashing the rumours, the Tanaiste has proven how he's lost his sure political touch, writes John Drennan

Published 11/09/2011 | 05:00

IT is never easy being the spectre at the never-ending feast but that was the unfortunate space Eamon Gilmore found himself in last week.

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Fine Gael and Labour may have been savouring the political equivalent of Paddy Kavanagh's 'enchanted way' but the unfortunate state of Gilmore was epitomised by the wasps that buzzed around his stately persona outside the Mount Wolseley Golf and Country Club during Labour's think-in in Carlow.

When you gaze across at the helicopter pad, it's clear that Labour has come up in the world from the bad old days of draughty gatherings in three-star road-houses where the politicians were outnumbered by the hacks.

Yet, somehow, we are now in a scenario where the political leader who has brought them to this happy state has become dangerously detached from the herd of ministers.

Ironically, the Tanaiste's attempt to get rid of a flea placed in his ear by the whispers about his new peripheral 'quiet man' role in cabinet, showed how he has lost that former sure touch.

Gilmore claimed the story wasn't true. He would have been more convincing had he said that gravity does not exist.

Even his own party is seething with rumours about how Gilmore lost 'it' during the election and had to be rescued by Ruairi Quinn or Brendan Howlin or whoever you're having yourself.

Some would say he lost 'it' well before the election.

In truth, the timeline is irrelevant -- for politics lives in the now and, just as power reduced Brian Cowen to such an extent even his closest allies were fretting about 'what's gone wrong with him' within months of the accession, Dithering Eamon is in serious political trouble.

As the Tanaiste flounced off to be irrelevant somewhere else there was much speculation about the source of the claims. But, while the debacle looked more like an episode of gossiping gone wrong rather than any great plot, this may represent even worse news for Mr Gilmore.

If his Fine Gael coalition partners were conspiring to put manners on Mr Gilmore, it would at least suggest that he was making a bit of a stir in the world. The converse, though, is that the measure of how badly things are going for Dithering Eamon is the anxiety of everyone to keep him in the leader's post.

High-profile Labour ministers such as Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Howlin are far too busy carving out their own empires and running the government to bother with Mr Gilmore. . . for now.

The best we can say of Pat Rabbitte is that he is moving in mysterious ways, while Joan Burton, the designated chief victim of the triumph of the lads, is far too busy creating her own reputation to be fretting about Mr Gilmore.

The delight within Fine Gael, meanwhile, at the innocuous performance of Gilmore was captured by the anxious claims that the sick man of the cabinet was doing very well, thank you. As one gentle soul noted piously that 'a stronger Labour is a stronger us', it was clear that blessed is the coalition partner who has a ditherer as a leader.

At the Fine Gael do, meanwhile, for the first time in decades there was the distinct scent of Eau de Blueshirt triumphant. Happily, on this occasion the heady taint of expensive perfume, sweat and Smithwicks was diluted somewhat by the fragrant walk-about by a Taoiseach, who, unlike his invisible Tanaiste, dominated the event.

As fellows who were trying to take the head off Kenny less than a year ago attempted to caress the hem of his newly acquired greatness one excited rebel sighed: "Enda's talking to me for the first time in a year, maybe there's hope for me yet."

Anyone who knows Kenny would realise there isn't, but the Taoiseach's impressive performance indicated there might be some for us.

In a clever, incisive speech Kenny warned his TDs that Ireland's ongoing flirtation with default has taught us just how "important and how fragile politics is".

The jury is still out on

whether, in a country whose lying elites have broken the unwritten contract that exists between a state and its people, the Taoiseach will deliver on his promises to build a new politics of 'authenticity' which would be guided by Bill Clinton's advice to 'never turn away from a crisis, turn into it'.

But, when you are sick it is always a comfort that the doctor at least knows what is wrong with you.

The mood of the rest of the cabinet was best captured by Cute Oul Phil Hogan (apparently now known as Phil the Enforcer) who glides through the deferential ranks in the contented manner of a bishop who has just secured the inheritance of a large farm from a pious spinster.

After years of under-fulfilment, Michael Noonan, rather like Churchill at war, appears to have found his perfect role.

As the national comfort blanket dispenses sage advice to his young courtiers, rare shards of optimism are evident in the minister's observation that whilst the road will be thorny for the next three years, after that 'we may even begin to spend a bit'.

Such optimism is a fresh experience, though wise souls would temper it with concern that the austerity drive could turn into another Verdun -- that pointless First World War battle that bled France dry.

But as we nervously creep away from the condition of fiscal bedlam Fianna Fail left us in, in these queer times of flickering hope, it is even possible to believe the Troika might be our friends.

Do we, after all, really believe the self-styled 'barrister's party' of Fine Gael would begin reform of the legal profession if the IMF were not applying the briefest of tips to Alan Shatter's rump?

In easier times we can be sure the privatisation of state assets would have resulted in arid inter-party bickering over the many rights of the ESB priesthood of labour. Now as Fine Gael prepares to cross the privatization ball, Labour is enthusiastically shouting 'on me head, son'.

Some will say that we are being over-optimistic in surmising that after our long 'Journey of the Magi'-style nightmare, a time of hope may be arriving.

Idealists will claim the ambition of becoming the best EU/IMF child is modest. But when set against the relegation zone Fianna Fail left us in, it is a pearl beyond price which will detach us from Greece and Portugal.

Back at the gatherings, the one point both partners were absolutely ad idem with is their determination to ensure 'the election will come in four and a half years time'.

The 14 years of famine that followed the Rainbow's all too short years of plenty, has taught our Grumpy Old Men the virtues of caution.

It remains, however, to be seen if Unhappy Gilmore will make that finishing line.

For now he is safe but should things not be going well in three years' time, well, Joan has no reason to be mopping his brow.

And if old Labour decides Mr Gilmore is a Democratic Left-style political fox, the pack may decide to dig him out and chop him up.

Sunday Independent

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