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New year cheer not on agenda as pessimist Joe paints bleak picture for Enda

The Christmas holliers are over. The Three Wise Men have been replaced by the troika who are back in town to judge whether we've been naughty or nice, and 2011 has been consigned to the same scrapheap which is destined to shortly receive 7,500 e-voting machines.

And the Taoiseach was back to school in more ways than one -- for en route to his first Dail session of the new year he popped by the RDS yesterday afternoon to officially launch the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Unfortunately for Enda, the students were only beginning to set up their stands and so he couldn't take a tour of some of the more intriguing projects, including one which investigates the influences on peoples' choices when voting, or another one which looks at the effect of gender and age on obedience and maturity, which might've come in handy for understanding some government backbench TDs.

However, he may have steered clear of the project from a Kerry school which studies "the effect the removal of a full-time ambulance service can have on a rural community and the people who live there".

The effect, he could have told the students, is not a good one for politicians.

Instead, he had to content himself with opening the 48th exhibition in front of a full auditorium of students who had most likely been threatened into a state of enthusiasm by their teachers, and so cheered the Taoiseach to the rafters when he was introduced onstage.

"It's a bit like being at a rock concert here except I'm not the star of the show -- you are," he modestly began.

"Awww," chorused the students, happy to receive a bit of plamas, and happier still to be anywhere except in their classrooms.

"Science and technology are where it's at for Ireland's future," he told them. "We're going to be in a very different world in 10 years' time -- it's coming at us whether we like it, or whether we don't".

But back in Leinster House later that afternoon, nothing seemed to be that different from before Christmas, with the Opposition airing various grievances involving bondholders, pensioners and the troika during Leaders' Questions.

Joe Higgins was in a particularly pessimistic mood, and the Socialist Party TD appeared determined to single-handedly eject any lingering vestiges of festive cheer which had failed to vacate the premises.

"Does the Taoiseach agree that for many of us it is deeply disappointing to hear that whatever reflection he did over the Christmas break, he has not recognised in the Dail's first meeting of 2012 that the austerity policy is an absolute disaster economically and socially?" he asked gloomily.

"Does he not see the significant contradiction in a supposedly sovereign Dail meeting when, 100 metres from here, the EU, IMF and ECB are in Government Buildings enforcing the dictate of private institutions and European financial markets?

"Does the Taoiseach not accept that the Government is not much more than a puppet government?" he demanded.

Oh it was a bleak picture which Joe painted for the chamber.

"Does he not see that his decision to continue almost identically the austerity and bailout policy of his predecessor is poisoning every aspect of life in the State?"

"Happy New Year, deputy. Cheer up," suggested Fine Gael's Bernard Durkan.

But Joe was beyond consolation. He was particularly vexed about the letters posted out by the Revenue Commissioners to a proportion of the country's pensioners, which announced that they may have fallen foul of the taxman.

"In the last week the Poor Clares could not have been more silent on the pensions controversy than the Minister for Social Protection," he sniped.

"I can imagine if Minister Burton had been in Opposition, she would have brought an orchestra in with her to accompany her wails of distress for the pensioners who have been scarified by your government, Taoiseach," he added.

Poor Joan wasn't in the chamber, therefore some of her government colleagues felt safe enough to laugh, even though they were all too aware that it was no laughing matter.

For the formula is a lot easier for politicians to understand than, say, E=mc2.

It isn't rocket science -- aggravate the grey vote and the sky will fall on your head.

QED, as the last bunch in power learned all too clearly.

Irish Independent