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Lise Hand: Noonan turns flip-flop into a masterful manoeuvre

IT'S possible that if he rolled up the sleeve of his nicely-pressed shirt, one would find tattooed on to the bicep of Michael Noonan that useful political axiom, "If you're explaining, you're losing".

Without being ageist/sexist/animalist towards Fine Gael's finance spokesman, sometimes it does take an old dog for the long road.

There was a bit of crowing and finger-pointing from other parties in the wake of what looked like a handbrake U-turn when Noonan welcomed Brian Lenihan's postponement of handing over the IMF loot to the banks, only to denounce the move a short time later.

Scoffing phrases like 'Minister for Vacillation' were floating about the airwaves as another senior member of Fine Gael had what looked like another change of mind.

Fine Gael didn't need any more talk of flip-flops, unless they were planning a canvass on Bondi Beach. In the aftermath of the Vincent Browne-inspired dog-ate-my-homework potpourri of excuses from the leader, all baroque explications were to be avoided at all costs.

And so Michael was under the spotlight when he and Enda launched their party's fiscal strategy at Fine Gael HQ yesterday morning. Why the abrupt volte-face on Brian Lenihan's decision?

Standing at the podium in a roomful of beady-eyed media, Michael Noonan was the very picture of insouciance.

It was all, as far as he was concerned, perfectly straightforward. He'd been out canvassing in the rain when he heard of the move by the Finance Minister.

"My first reaction to it was that this was good news ... because Brian Lenihan has maintained the position always that nothing could be renegotiated, and then in one fell swoop he changes a date which we thought was sacrosanct," said Michael.

But then he got briefed properly on the matter, and promptly had a rethink. So at the press conference he activated Rule Number One -- deflect unwelcome attention by hinting at a conspiracy.

"I just don't know what Brian Lenihan is at because I just don't think he's being forthcoming with us, and if he has any kind of indication that there might be a bigger black hole in the rest of the banking system."

And then came Rule Number Two -- sling a bit of mud back at your opponent.

"I'm of the view that this was motivated by the desire to have a political stroke and that, in the last week of an election, a Fianna Fail minister didn't want to be announcing further black holes in the bank," he sniped.

Finally, he played the opposition trump card, and threw down the Anglo joker. "And when you're on the doorsteps, if you want to get people angry, all you have to say is -- even the dog barks at you -- if you say Anglo Irish Bank," he declared.

And that was an end to it. No flip-flop, U-turn, dithering, or drama. Just a few smooth manoeuvres.

Shortly afterwards Enda hit the Wicklow campaign trail with undimmed relish, accompanied by the party's three candidates: sitting TDs Andrew Doyle and Billy Timmins and the disconcertingly young-looking Simon Harris, whose spanking new headquarters in Bray gave the other two a serious dose of office-envy.

"This is very elaborate-looking," gasped Billy.

Enda was enjoying himself mightily as he dropped into a butcher's shop in Wicklow.

"Are those Chinese chicken-wings from Ballyhaunis?" he wisecracked with the owner.

"No, they came in on a slow boat from China," deadpanned the butcher.

See? That's how relaxed Enda was on the trail yesterday. He could even joke about chickens.

Irish Independent