Wednesday 13 December 2017

Bruton's biggest problem is that he's far too honest for politics

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

"POLITICS for the next 10 years will be about taking things off people, unfortunately."

Richard Bruton's response to a Dublin constituent last weekend when he was canvassing for the EU fiscal treaty was instructive about the Jobs Minister's approach.

The man in his 50s living in Griffith Court, in Marino, wanted more creative ideas from the Government and cited Charlie McCreevy's SSIA scheme.

Mr Bruton didn't sugar coat his response to the idea of a giveaway any time soon.

He's always been that way, even when the pressure was on to make promises.

During the celebrated Fine Gael leadership heave, a colleague went through the list of marginal TDs who could be convinced to turn on Enda Kenny.

He named a backbencher whose only concern was having a running mate put in on top of him in his area.

Mr Bruton was bluntly told that if he promised the TD the clear run he wanted, he'd have the vote in the bag.

He refused. He lost.

The same backbencher did not have a running mate imposed in his area in the general election and is believed to have voted for Mr Kenny.

Join the dots yourself.

Fine Gael frontbenchers also tell the tale of the party's pre-budget submission having to be re-examined when Mr Bruton found a €50m black hole.

Rather than simply chuck the errant sum in under efficiencies, he insisted it had to be properly accounted for, even though it was only a hypothetical budget that would never actually be implemented.

Mr Bruton's problem is he's too bloody honest for politics.

Ironically, this trait rebounded on him this week when he suggested a second referendum would be required to pass the EU fiscal treaty.

Within minutes, Mr Bruton retracted the remarks when an adviser passed him a note. A series of denials followed from the Taoiseach, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Health Minister Dr James Reilly and a series of officials.

Mr Bruton was forced to admit he had messed up.

"In the heat of a debate, I dealt badly with a question and may unnecessarily have caused some confusion."

What made the minister's allusion to a second referendum all the more believable is the credibility he has built up as an honest broker, who doesn't just say what he thinks people want to hear.

As a result, he enjoys a level of trust with the public his counterparts can only dream of.

Any suggestion he will be confined to the wilderness for the remainder of the campaign will be dismissed tomorrow night when he appears on RTE's 'The Week In Politics' to debate the treaty.

But Fine Gael sources noted Mr Bruton's colleagues wasted little time in allowing him to face the music.

"Poor Richard was made to eat so much humble pie that he'll have to have his stomach pumped out," a party TD said.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said Mr Bruton was "courageous and man enough" to immediately recognise he had made a mistake and own up to it.

"It would be good if some of the people on the other side were to own up in a similar fashion to some of the comments they've made," he said.

Indeed, the Taoiseach himself could learn a lesson here too.

Yes, Mr Bruton messed up, but his standing with the electorate isn't damaged in the long-term.

Irish Independent

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