Friday 13 December 2019

Water charges fury turns on dream team

Michael Noonan and Joan Burton poised to be next victims, writes John Drennan

Any clever postman will tell you that if a large hound races out barking, it is not advisable to display any fear. The reasoning behind this is that if you simply saunter past the dog, he will soon get bored.

By contrast, a shrieking postman, scattering letters all over the shop as he runs down the drive, is only likely to tempt our hound to repeat the trick every day for fun.

Sadly, when it comes to Irish Water, the Coalition appears to have adopted the running-away-shrieking tactic.

As the hounds of the electorate continue to bark at the fleeing political forms, two of the more surprising potential political victims are the Tanaiste and the Finance Minister. This is no small political problem for an already embattled Coalition.

Enda Kenny may, with accelerating speed, be turning into a similar political cipher as the departed Eamon Gilmore.

An invisible Enda, however, is a manageable political crisis that might even improve the Coalition's fortunes. Burton and Noonan, by contrast, are the corner-stones on which our increasingly ramshackle Coalition stands.

Despite this status, even these wise political creatures do not appear to be safe from the furies roused by water.

For now, FG may be smiling as Labour TDs wail about how there has been "no Burton or budget bounce."

But the long-term security of the Coalition is unlikely to be enhanced by the failure of Joan to fill the sails of Labour in any appreciable fashion.

When it comes to Labour we are not yet in 'Joan, Joan the grey goose is gone country'. But a bad pattern where Joan is far less effective when it comes to fighting on the back foot is emerging.

In particular, the Minister's affable loquaciousness is a charm whose potency is fast diminishing.

However, an even greater concern for thinking Coalition TDs must be the speed with which the Finance Minister is starting to lose his legendary sure-footedness.

The great selling point of Mr Noonan was that he appeared to resemble the sort of trustworthy bank manager who would never engage in unwise lending.

However, the problem with Mr Noonan is that he has sold the electorate too many three card tricks. For most of his reign the voters have been beguiled by the 'now you see the tax cuts, now you don't' patter of the Minister.

In the recent budget though, the electorate were not prepared to buy the Ministers spiel.

This was all the more demoralising, for Mr Noonan's Budget was the political equivalent of that much anticipated birth of a royal heir which would secure the existence of the Coalition dynasty.

Instead we got a sickly coughing thing that lasted scarcely a day before it died at the hands of the ravenous water-charges hydra.

One of the lesser known features of Mr Noonan is that he is far less assured than the public profile suggests. When things go wrong he can get contrary and dismissive very swiftly.

Now suddenly the snarly gene that so characterises Mr Noonan when he is on the defensive is back on display as, like Yorick, an increasingly tired and irritated Minister runs out of japes.

The problem with Noonan's ever more distracted state is that the Fine Gael wing of the Coalition is not designed to deal with any erosion of the Finance Ministers authority.

He is the FG comfort blanket, particularly in a scenario where support is ebbing away from the Dear Leader Enda.

Ironically, we are now in a place where Mr Noonan is needed more than ever, for, while having a cipher as a Taoiseach is bad, if the Finance Minister loses his authority the Coalition will really struggle to hold the centre.

Sunday Independent

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