News John Drennan

Thursday 28 August 2014

Leaders questioned -- who wins and loses in a lacklustre season

It was for many a year of political indifference -- but it ended with a post-Troika bang, writes John Drennan

John Drennan

Published 29/12/2013 | 02:30

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26/11/13 Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured at Government Buildings this afternoon where they announced results of the seventh progress report under the Government's Action Plan for Jobs..Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams
Lucinda Creighton
Lucinda Creighton

CHARLES Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, famously described Revolutionary France as existing in "the worst of times" and the "best of times" where "we had everything before us, we had nothing before us".

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They may make for a set of unlikely Robespierres, but as the Coalition passed its meridian, Ireland appears to be experiencing a great age of equivocation.

We might have exited the bondage of the bailout and tempered the Anglo Irish Bank reparations, but the citizens responded with indifference rather than fireworks.

As the country remained frozen in a strange national mood of existential doubt that left both Government and opposition marooned in a Sargasso Sea of indifference, who were the winners and losers of 2013?

WINNER

King Enda

It was a year where the Taoiseach reached new heights of political cunning. Of course, whether that is as good a thing as FG and Enda think it to be is another question.

And despite Enda's growing similarity to Bertie, in terms of cunning and elusiveness, there were setbacks such as the Seanad referendum (Richard's fault) but that has the weight of a feather on a scales when compared to exiting the bailout, the minimising of damage from the abortion 'difficulty' and the exiling of those promissory notes.

Increasing complaints have also been heard about 'King' Enda's 'autocratic style' but one suspects that when compared to the amicable days of Kenny Lite, the Taoiseach will not fret excessively over his new reputation.

STILL IN THE GAME ... JUST

Eamon Gilmore

& Micheal Martin

Were we devising a survivor-of-the-year award, Mr Gilmore would be a definite winner. After earlier woes, the Labour leader's party conference certainly resembled the happier era of North Korea when 'Dear Leaders' were properly respected, but Mr Gilmore's Biffo-style popularity ratings mean that, rather like the Irish economy, he remains vulnerable to sudden local election shocks.

Micheal Martin surprisingly fared little better than the Tanaiste. He didn't do much that was terribly wrong but the problem with Micheal was that he didn't do a great deal that was terribly right either.

In fairness, the FF leader is still playing poker with a deck of cards that were cut by his predecessor Biffo and are now being dealt by the FG sheriff, but he and his unforgiven party have fallen back into the struggling pack again for no apparent reason.

One suspects the absence of discernible reasons for this rise and fall is a far greater source of concern than the actual fall itself.

LAPPED BY THE FIELD

Gerry Adams

Given their similar ideological bent, Mr Adams might think old Chinese leaders go on forever, but democracy is a more ruthless game.

Haunted by old ghosts in a manner that mirrors the last year of Haughey, it is a measure of Gerry's position that Sinn Fein's political enemies are pleading for Mr Adams to at least stay until 2016.

CUTEST, MOST CUNNING

OF THEM ALL

Michael Noonan

Finance ministers during austerity rarely evoke a national response approximating to mums clucking over a pram cooing at a newborn baby.

This has been the astonishing experience of Michael Noonan, who continues to revel in his status as the national grandfather.

It is a role that, in fairness, has served Ireland well in Europe, where Noonan has evolved into a one-man Chuckle Brother who, in keeping our world masters happy, has secured significant gains for Ireland.

BEST MINISTER

Brendan Howlin

He is a difficult child to love but Howlin enjoyed an understated but successful year. Replacing Croke Park with Haddington Road was no easy achievement whilst piloting through more stark budgetary cutbacks -- and thereby doing the heavy lifting for Finance Minister Noonan without suffering the expected level of political damage -- was no small political achievement.

Unlike other ministers who tend to have the tactical sense of General Custer, he was intelligent enough when it came to that Freedom of Information blunder to do a speedy U-turn.

WORST MINISTER

Alan Shatter

Mr Shatter may be the sort of brilliant soul who can draft six private members' bills before breakfast, but his 'challenging' personality continues to represent a significant fault-line when it comes to the art of bringing the citizens with you.

For all his capacity to talk, the less-than-impressive pace, repeatedly noted by the Troika, of key legal and insolvency reforms, and a set of unedifying disputes with those he really should not be squabbling with, such as Mick Wallace, means that, for all the furores about James Reilly, Mr Shatter is our selection as the Cabinet's weakest link.

BEST OPPOSITION

FRONT-BENCHER

Niall Collins

Normally Mary Lou McDonald would walk away with this prize. This, however, was the year where Mary Lou fell to Earth; or rather that the gristly hand of Gerry's history reached out from the crypt and dragged her there.

This means she is passed out by the pugnacious Niall Collins of Fianna Fail, who chased Alan Shatter far more successfully than the Justice Minister would like to admit. For those of us who like our political dogs to have a bit of bite in them, Mr Collins provided us with a welcome example that old-fashioned political rough-housing does still work.

WORST OPPOSITION

FRONT-BENCHER

Gerry Adams

Despite the many applicants, we don't have to cast too wide a net for this one.

It is again unfortunate but the halting mix of mangled half-English half-Irish he uses is all too typical of Gerry's performances on everything from ethics to economics.

Ultimately, that which won it for Gerry was the bleating about evils such as the now hugely popular Oireachtas wine brand.

Leave it out, Gerry, until you have sorted your own attic first.

BEST-BEHAVED MINISTER

Joan Burton

Some, particularly amongst the more paranoid wing of Labour, will be surprised by our nomination of Joan Burton.

This year, however, despite all the running to teacher by certain Labour elements, Ms Burton stuck to her knitting, got her welfare figures in nice and early to Headmaster Howlin and hasn't given any cheek to the 'Dear Leader' Mr Gilmore.

Of course, a certain degree of pragmatism was also attached to the Mary Poppins approach as Ms Burton secured the early Christmas present of a set of budgetary cutbacks that were far lower than initially anticipated.

SCAPEGOAT OF THE YEAR

James Reilly

Pat Rabbitte contended strongly in this one. Apparently the main reason is that sometimes Pat doesn't smile enough and then when he does he's smirking. Worse still, Bad Pat is also guilty of being honest about the value of election promises.

Ultimately, Pat has once again has been defeated by the one-man political version of Brendan Grace's 'Father of the Bride' that is James Reilly. You are in serious trouble when they start to feel sorry for you. However, this appears to be the case with James Reilly, who has joined the long list of White Knights who have been roasted by the multi-headed HSE dragon. Intriguingly, those who appear to be most sympathetic to Dr Reilly's dilemmas, and even more anxious for him to stay, are Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

JUNIOR MINISTER OF THE YEAR

Michael Ring & Brian Hayes

On this occasion we have decided to share the award between Michael Ring and Brian Hayes. Ring's fox-like cunning has seen him evade the many troubles associated with the dangerous sports portfolio not to mention the even more dangerous delights of being Leo's Junior.

Intriguingly, Ring's best work is done behind the scenes, as epitomised by his role, in tandem with Labour Whip Emmet Stagg, in sinking a proposed national rod licence scheme.

The relationship between Brian Hayes and Michael Noonan has resembled that of David Jason and Ronnie Barker in the comedy Open All Hours with, for the avoidance of doubt, Mr Hayes playing the role of David Jason's chirpy delivery boy. It is a role Hayes has managed with more aplomb and dignity than you might expect.

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

The Seanad

This award collectively goes to the poor, previously derided, dusty old senators.

All of smart society might have predicted their demise, but the combination of a too-smart-for-your-own-good, overly confident government campaign meant old warriors like Paul Coughlan and young rebels such as Labour's Three Amigos, John Whelan, Denis Landy and John Kelly, provided the world with its greatest shock since Norway beat the English soccer team.

STANDING BY THE REPUBLIC

Lucinda Creighton

What is it with this Government and feisty independent-thinking women?

After Roisin, it was the turn this year of Lucinda Creighton to prove having a conscience in Irish politics really is a barrier to advancement. The inanity of the Irish Whip system that facilitated her resignation was epitomised by the subsequent sight of a great tranche of Tory MP's voting against the UK government's position on Syria. No one was expelled and guess what; the sky did not fall in.

BACK-BENCHER OF THE YEAR

Colm Keaveney

Far from going for the flamingos we generally have a preference for the quiet, hardworking unknown TD. In this regard, Labour's Gerard Nash deserves mention for getting on with the business of working for his constituents.

Kevin Humphreys, too, is one of the more forensic government back-benchers, whilst wise observers are keeping a keen eye on FG's Aine Collins rather than more high-profile good-speak for Enda-style TDs such as Regina Doherty and Simon Harris.

Ultimately, if only for entertainment we have decided to break our flamingo rule because the TD who had the largest impact on politics last year was Colm Keaveney.

There may have been some mockery of Colm's Pilgrims Progress but if he does half as well as those birds of passage from other parties that are now mocking him, FF will have a new leader before the Dail term is out.

POLITICAL EEJIT OF THE YEAR

Tom Barry

In these litigious times we have decided there are no gobshites left in Leinster House. Happily, the triumph of the not-so-great age of ethics has witnessed the rise of a noble breed of eejit's in their place.

Our clear winner has to be Tom Barry, who entered the annals of Irish history in a rather different manner to his War of Independence namesake, courtesy of his frolicsome antics in the early hours of the Pregnancy and Life Bill in the Dail Chamber.

In truth, the Tomfoolery was entirely harmless but for his role in giving Gerry Adams the excuse to start bleating about closing the Dail bar. We have made him our clear winner.

Irish Independent

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