Sunday 26 January 2020

Fiach Kelly: New reality in a very different universe

WE have now entered a parallel political universe. Years of circling around Planet Bertie -- which turned out to be a big ball of gas with nothing at its core -- have brought us here.

That nice sturdy fellow, Captain Cowen, told us he'd lead us away from the explosive belches coming from Planet Bertie and help steer the spaceship of state towards a galaxy of stars.

This time last year, we disappeared down a black hole, and decided that Captain Cowen should be chucked out in the nearest escape pod.

We hitched our hopes to a shiny new dawn, and a new way of doing things, promised by Fine Gael and Labour.

So, here we are, in the parallel political universe. We're not sure this is where we wanted to go, but as Captain Cowen used to say: we are where we are.

And what a place it is.

Be amazed as Fianna Fail seizes the moral high ground, and lambastes the Coalition for stinginess and cronyism, a fine art perfected during our orbit of Planet Bertie.

The party's public spending spokesman Sean Fleming said Brendan Howlin's cuts would "impact harshly on some people but the Government has been careful to protect some of its well-paid friends and cronies".

And, even though it was jaw-dropping to hear it come from a Fianna Fail man, and government backbenchers hooted their derision, Mr Fleming wasn't wrong.

If Tony Crony wears a blue shirt or a red rose on his lapel, it doesn't mean he's not a crony.

In our new universe, Sinn Fein rails from the left about draconian cuts, the like of which it is implementing on our neighbouring outer moon, Northern Ireland.

"The eagerness with which the party is pursuing its new cuts agenda is deeply shocking," said Mary-Lou McDonald yesterday, not of her own party, but of Labour.

She did, however, use the unfortunate phrase that her colleagues were "fighting the British government" for more control of the North's financial affairs.

The Labour Party has jettisoned some of its key election pledges like a spaceship letting its toilet tank float out into the great vastness.

Yesterday saw Labour ministers increase college fees and cut disability payments, even though the party said it would keep education costs down and maintain welfare rates.

Ruairi Quinn signed a solemn pledge saying college fee increases wouldn't happen. But there he was in the Dail yesterday, nodding his agreement as Mr Howlin outlined his Budget of cuts.

Fine Gael TDs, who for years scoffed at the Fianna Fail culture of looking after the lads, squirmed uncomfortably as Taoiseach Enda Kenny was criticised for overruling ministers and giving a key ally a massive pay increase.

Reality has been turned on its head in our new universe.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan last year criticised Brian Lenihan for cutting child benefit for third children, but had to sit and grin through yesterday's announcement when his Government did exactly the same. "What have you against a third child?" asked Mr Fleming.

At least the new captains of our ship didn't clap when Mr Howlin sat down -- well most didn't anyway, although junior ministers Brian Hayes, Roisin Shortall and Sean Sherlock looked embarrassed when they realised they were on their own.

It all had the air of a non-event, and we're fast approaching another, bigger, black hole in the shape of the euro summit later this week.

Oh, what a universe we live in. Grin and bear it.

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