Friday 23 February 2018

Enda lacked passion and Brendan stumbled, but Mary Lou said it all

ON his Newstalk show yesterday morning, Ivan Yates, who's still mourned by some as Fine Gael's lost leader, wasn't ecstatic about the previous night's television address by the party's current leader -- in particular deploring the fact that, given the fiscal circumstances, Enda Kenny "didn't make some attempt at a German accent".

Nor, he added, did the Taoiseach have any useful tips about how to recycle used teabags, thereby precluding himself from securing the Minister for Hardship role invented by Frank Hall for former Fine Gael finance minister Richie Ruin.

But Ivan -- who's more of a boon to radio broadcasting than a loss to party politics -- reserved his real scorn for the "carry-on caper" that saw rival parties demanding from RTE equivalent airtime to that used up by Enda in his state of the nation address. "Did you ever hear anything as daft in all your life?" an exasperated Ivan asked.

As for the speech itself, Ivan dismissed it as "full of generalities" from which he "didn't learn anything new" -- a judgment echoed by most of the Galway public canvassed by RTE Radio One's 'Morning Ireland'. Nor were they expecting anything but the worst from the Budget. "There's no good news comin' out of dem boys," one man muttered darkly.

Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary was saying much the same a few minutes later on 'Morning Ireland', only to be interrupted by Fine Gael's Simon Coveney, who snarled "Oh, for God's sake, having to listen to this is stomach-churning", which seemed a tad excessive. Simon was of the view that Enda had been "blunt and truthful" in his previous night's speech.

After the 9am news bulletin, John Murray thought it would be hilarious to intersperse Enda's speech with the soundtrack from RTE's ominous lowlife drama, 'Love/Hate', but the gag fell flat on its face and listeners had to endure Whoopi Goldberg while waiting for Pat Kenny to arrive and stamp his customary authority on Enda's speech, Brendan's imminent Budget and the day in general.

He began by playing extracts from former state of the nation addresses, notably that by Champagne Charlie who, in 1982, had managed to keep a straight face while declaring that we were all living way beyond our means. "Ah, the bitter irony of it all," Pat sighed.

Then he played a clip of Italian welfare minister Elsa Fornero breaking down in tears on Sunday as she was forced to announce measures that would be of detriment to pensioners. Would our own minister Joan Burton find herself similarly sobbing later in the day? Time would tell.

Pat's callers were no more complimentary about Enda's performance than their 'Morning Ireland' counterparts. "Wooden and passionless," decreed one man. "A fearful pupil of Merkel," declared another, while a woman wanted to know who had chosen "the awful pink tie". Jeez, give him a break.

On the 'News at One', RTE political reporter Brian Dowling told anchorman Sean O'Rourke exactly what would be in that afternoon's Budget, thus rendering Brendan Howlin irrelevant.

In the event, Brendan parroted precisely what Brian had predicted, if less eloquently -- indeed, his speech was notable for the number of times he stumbled over words and phrases, as if he couldn't believe he was actually saying them, which was probably true for a man brought up on old Labour pieties. Indeed, instead of blithely ignoring the heckles from opposition benches, he seemed positively unnerved by them, at one point interrupting his speech to acknowledge, "It won't be easy, Finian" -- the Finian in question presumably being a derisive Finian McGrath. All very surreal.

Then it was up to Fianna Fail to respond, that task being alloted to Sean Fleming, who couldn't make up his mind whether he was taking part in a Macra na Feirme debating competition (junior grade) or was participating in a Charlie McCreevy soundalike contest.

He, too, got blindsided by hecklers -- Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett having to intervene at one point and gently advise: "Don't respond."

After that came Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald with a speech characterised by its delicate attention to subtlety and nuance.

Yeah, right.

"Disgraceful" was Mary Lou's verdict on Brendan's proposals. Not only was this a sad day for the State, she continued, it was a sad day for the Labour Party, which was now exposed as a party that would "do anything to stay in power".

Then she lectured them for 20 minutes on the "shame" they'd brought on themselves, and the country in general.

Ah, there's nothing like Mary Lou in full flow on the opposition benches. Long may she stay there.

For the record, Joan Burton gave a press conference in which she defended the welfare cuts. She sounded sad and even contrite about them but she didn't cry. It must be an Italian thing.

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