Saturday 21 April 2018

The party leaks that signify a chilll wind blowing through the corridors of power

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore

THE irony of the Cabinet meetings is that the Government doesn't actually meet in Government Buildings.

Usually held on Tuesdays at 10.30am, meetings take place in what is known as the 'ministerial block', where Leinster House and Government Buildings collide, and part of the Houses of the Oireachtas complex.

On his way to Cabinet, Taoiseach Enda Kenny usually stops by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's office, located on the floor above, for their weekly pre-meeting.

Mr Gilmore occupies what was once the official office of the Taoiseach, a long bright room with yellow decor, a suite of furniture, a long mahogany table, capable of seating about a dozen people and a desk up the far end.

Charlie Haughey was the last Taoiseach to occupy that office, before the renovation of Government Buildings saw the configuration change.

Sometimes the meeting takes place in the Taoiseach's office, but it's mostly on the Tanaiste's home ground. Officials and advisers are left outside the door as the two men attempt to thrash out any differences of opinion between their parties.

"They hardly go into a room to discuss things they agree on. They're not there congratulating each other on areas of agreement," a source said.

Mr Kenny has already met with Fine Gael ministers in the Sycamore Room and Mr Gilmore has met with Labour party ministers in his office beforehand, so both know the areas of niggle between the parties.

Last week at this meeting, Mr Gilmore is understood to have delivered a rebuke to Mr Kenny over his exclusion from the recent round of televised addresses following the exit from the bailout.

Labour is also annoyed at the manner in which Fine Gael is perceived to be spinning against its coalition partner. This also featured in the meeting.

After a calm few months, where the end of the bailout finally brought rewards in the polls, the jostling for position between the parties has become unexpectedly heightened.

Labour also had a positive party conference and felt there was some light at the end of the tunnel of going into Government. But the junior coalition party is now blaming Fine Gael for the leaking of details of Labour's complaints.

"Somebody out there is deciding this is the issue they want to tout. The point is it's intriguing that that's what someone decided to take from the conversation," a Labour Party source said.

"Someone on the Fine Gael side has decided to play a game and rattled up tensions."

But Fine Gael believes Labour is making a mountain out of a molehill.

"I don't know what they are talking about," a minister said.

"What we have here is briefing about briefing. Nobody rolled out of bed this morning worried about relations in the Coalition. They're worried about jobs and their son in Australia. That's all," a Fine Gael source said.


Beneath the surface, there have been a series of spats that have continued to eat away at the levels of trust.

Budget 2014 was passed but it still left its scars, even if not as bad as the blood that was spilled in the talks on Budget 2013 when Labour's proposal for a wealth tax was shot down at a late stage by Fine Gael.

The sparring this year featured Fine Gael figures saying Social Protection Minister Joan Burton would have to step up and she wasn't going to get off lightly this time.

Fine Gael maintained that it had no problem with easing the burden for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, but not for Ms Burton. "They tried to drive a wedge through Labour ministers. It didn't work," a Labour source said.

Labour held the line and the social welfare minister got adequate protection to emerge without any cut in her budget to rival the slashing of child benefit a year earlier.

But the budget negotiations ended with Health Minister Dr James Reilly's estimates once again lacking credibility and the controversial €113m medical card probity figure being picked apart.

The finger of blame was pointed by Fine Gael at Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin. Labour defended its man and pointed to Dr Reilly's financial management.

After their meeting every Tuesday, Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore exit the Tanaiste's office and take a lift to the floor where the Cabinet Room is located.

Going by the stairs actually involves taking quite the convoluted and lengthy route. Sometimes the lift gets stuck and needs to be oiled. Sometimes the Coalition gets stuck too.

Irish Independent

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