THERE will be more than a few TDs who will spend the next few days singing the Freddie Mercury Anthem ‘Thank God it’s Christmas’. A brief break in the battle that might allow heads to calm, regroup and prepare for another tough year ahead. It is also a time that will allow some reflection and that will be something Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore will welcome.
This Christmas they may both be visited, late on Christmas Eve night, by three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas past will guide Eamon Gilmore on a journey back to the days of Frank Cluskey, back to the days when Labour was a determined force, concerned less about their size or position than the strength of their argument.
The Ghost may then treat the Tánaiste to images of later governments, where Dick Spring was never one to be accused of rolling over and having his tummy tickled. Eamon might notice the lack of genuine friendships in such past governments, they were merely business relationships. Spring never got too close because he always reserved the right to walk away.
Then of course Eamon would be treated to visions of the most recent past. ‘Those promises, Oh why did we make them? We could have won the election at a canter, but it was too hard to resist.’
Words like ‘Labours way or Frankfurt’s way’ will overshadow the vision, it all looked so easy.
Then he will see Brian Cowen perplexed and fearing an election with bad poll ratings, hoping that with time it will change and he will notice that it got worse not better. He will see the likes of Michael McDowell and John Gilmore always hoping to extract one more policy initiative to make things worthwhile, always stalling on the threat of a walkout, convinced that ‘stability’ was the key, then he will see where that left them.
The Ghost of Christmas Past may also visit Enda Kenny. Showing him Garret Fitzgerald at his height. Winning an arguably better FG election result than even Enda did. Garrett also did it, not against the backdrop of an imploding FF but when FF was at the height of its power. He will know how respected Garret was, that he was perceived by all to be economically intelligent and capable.
Then he will fast-forward to the end of that that career in government where Garret’s reputation lay in tatters, when after several years of government with Labour and a conviction that the policies would work, they simply made things worse.
As he flies through the years he will notice Reynolds, Bruton and Ahern and know that you can be a hero one day and reviled within a matter of weeks. ‘It’s the little things that trip you up’ may ring in his ears as he watches the doubts expressed over his leadership and that rogue Richard Bruton and his young cadre of supporters making a grab for power that he so ably destroyed.
The Ghost of Christmas Present will take over and first bring the Tánaiste to Pat Rabbitte who is busily eating his Christmas dinner while explaining that rash promises are ‘what you say during an election’ and looking incredulously at those who see something wrong in it. Then he may bring him to the Carers and the dinner tables of those who are suffering most through the cuts. Eamon may well be reduced to some tears.
As for the Taoiseach, the ghost of Christmas Present might well show him Angela Merkel's Christmas feast, know it’s something he may enjoy, then he may bring him to the Christmas dinners of former Taoisigh and they too will enjoy it with the only complaint being the loss of their reputation and some swipes at the biased media.
It is around the dinner tables of those who provide the FG bedrock that Enda might find doubts expressed. Ordinary people who have given all they can and who will never appear on Time magazine, yet they are the ones on whom the hope of the nation rests and perhaps he will notice the many vacant chairs at Christmas dinners where loved ones have been forced to leave in search of a better life.
It is the Ghost of Christmas yet to come that holds the most fear for both men. For Eamon Gilmore the Ghost appears as a shadowy hooded figure looking uncannily like Joan Burton, but he can’t be sure. The ghost says not a word put points to the abortion debate, then through an all-or-nothing negotiation on debt with the EU, to budgetary promises, to a mini Labour Party in exile on the opposition benches. Eamon screams, ‘I can change, I can change’ but the ghost does not reply. It points to the TDs whispering that the only way TDs could rejoin is if a new leader took over and that all depends on timing and circumstance. The issue must be right. As he turns to the Ghost fearfully he sees that it is indeed Joan Burton Floating above him with a Sword of Damocles poised over his head.
Meanwhile, Enda Kenny is visited by the Ghost of Christmas yet to come. This ghost does not let him see its face, but it shows him his party convulsing on the abortion issue. It shows him his leadership being tested and his strength of character pushed to the limit. It reminds him that this job broke men like Fitzgerald, Cowen - tough guys - is he up to it? Michael Noonan, who once sacked Enda Kenny, is now the man Enda is relying on, his only hope to deliver.
The ghost shows him the raft of uncaring and giggling civil servants, the guys with all the answers but who never take the fall. It shows him an EU that has ceased to be a partnership and is driving itself toward a hierarchy. Enda’s two generals who saved him during the Bruton coup, namely Reilly and Hogan, are now deadweight carrying far less influence in the party. One foot wrong and Enda can see that cadre of youngsters reuniting. It’s their Ministers that seem to do better. As he glances up from his Christmas Dinner, Richard Bruton gives Enda a wry smile.
What will happen Christmas morning is anyone’s guess but Irish politicians don’t change easily. Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.