Saturday 15 December 2018

2010 has had more highlights than David Beckham's hair

WHAT a long, strange 12 months it's been. Politically, 2010 has had more highlights than David Beckham's hair. It was the year when Bruton almost killed Kenny, when Brian Cowen got a hoarse throat, when Bertie Ahern announced he was retiring as a TD, when George Lee became an ex-TD and Defence Minister Willie O'Dea shot himself in the foot, when Finance Minister Brian Lenihan gave AIB to a grateful electorate for Christmas and when Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith gave them free cheese and, most dramatically, it was the year when a chap called Ajai Chopra became Ard-Ri of Ireland.

It was like 'Killinaskully'-meets-'Corrie'. The year's most dramatic political soap opera was sparked by an opinion poll on Thursday, June 10, which showed that Fine Gael had been overtaken by Labour as Ireland's most popular party.

That night on 'Prime Time', deputy leader Richard Bruton conspicuously failed to endorse the leadership of Enda Kenny and, suddenly, the knives came flying out of scabbards.

Unsurprisingly, Enda told Richard where to put his offer of the foreign affairs portfolio in the next government if he would step down as party leader without any hullaballoo.

Everyone took sides and publicly slung mud at each other, much to the delight of Brian Cowen who was facing a Dail motion of no confidence in the midst of all the palaver.

And then Enda shocked everyone by launching a ferocious fightback orchestrated by the street-fighting Phil Hogan, which included the sacking of Richard Bruton as his deputy.

Tension -- and tempers -- ran high in Leinster House and it looked as if Enda was toast.

But wily warhorse Phil had been marshalling his troops behind the scenes and, astonishingly, Enda survived the motion of no confidence on Thursday, June 17, afterwards describing the failed heave as "the biggest political miscalculation that I have seen in 35 years in national politics".

A month later he announced his new frontbench -- Michael Noonan was in as finance spokesman, but a sheepish Richard was also given a reprieve and a job as spokesman on enterprise, jobs and planning.

There would be no more heaves, declared an ebullient Enda, because "all the long grass has been cut".

On Thursday, November 18 -- after weeks of frenzied speculation and emphatic denials by the Government ("fiction" snorted Dermot Ahern on the question of whether a bailout was on the cards), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to town.

Suddenly the IMF's Ajai Chopra was as much a household name as 'X Factor' contestant Mary Byrne.

Ten days later, on the Arctic snowy night of Sunday, November 28, the Taoiseach held a grim press conference to announce that Ireland was getting (whether it wanted it or not) a massive dig-out of €85bn, although €17.5bn of it would come from the national nest-egg, the Pension Reserve Fund.

"It will enable us to move forward with secure funding," he explained to an unimpressed nation.

And then, shortly after his exit from Government Buildings, the chaps from the IMF, ECB and EU took to the same podium.

The plundering of the national nest-egg was "a win-win situation", declared Ard-Ri Ajai. It sure didn't feel like it.

2010 was the year when TDs and senators began to bail out of politics like furry rodents off a sinking ocean-going liner.

The year began with five resignations in four weeks, spectacularly kicking off on Monday, February 8, with George Lee's shock departure from Leinster House a mere eight months after his landslide victory in the Dublin South by-election.

According to George, he had "virtually no input or influence" in the shaping of Fine Gael's policies, but his abrupt flounce off the political stage left Enda looking precarious.

But other distractions soon arose -- the resignation of Green senator Deirdre de Burca (February 12) who left in a flurry of recriminations about party leader John Gormley; then Defence Minister Willie O'Dea finally raised the white flag and stepped down after controversy arose about a court action (February 18); as did a dignified Green mini-minister Trevor Sargent after he became embroiled in a controversy over a letter written to gardai concerning a constituent.

And, finally, it stopped being fun for 'Minister for Fun' Martin Cullen who resigned his job and his seat on health grounds.

On November 2, Donegal's Jim McDaid resigned his seat. And (at the time of writing) 19 TDs have declared they won't run in the next general election, including two senior members of Cabinet, Justice Minister Dermot 'Big Ears' Ahern and his buddy, Transport Minister Noel 'Noddy' Dempsey.

On the plus side, Donegal South-West got a brand new TD, Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty.

It wasn't just the country which was in the red in 2010 -- one of our government ministers was literally in the red too.

On Monday, November 1, Health Minister Mary Harney turned up at Cherry Orchard Hospital in Ballyfermot for a sod-turning ceremony, only to be accosted by Eirigi member and Dublin city councillor Louise Minihan, who squirted red paint over her from a sports drinking bottle and shouted "shame on you".

Louise was lifted by the law, and the paint-spattered minister continued with the ceremony and generated a blizzard of 'Bloody Mary' headlines for a grateful media.

In what must win the Most Bizarre Presser of 2010 gong, the Green Party called a snap press conference on the morning of Monday, November 22, to announce they were pulling out of Government.

Well, sort of.

"People feel misled and betrayed," declared John Gormley.

But they weren't taking their ball home straight away. No siree -- they planned to stick around until all stages of the Budget bills were passed sometime early in 2011.

"Leaving the country without a government while these matters are unresolved would be very damaging," he reckoned.

Well he got that right -- coming the morning after the Government admitted it was in talks with the IMF, the timing could not have been worse.

The international media went berserk, the international bond market soared, there was feverish gossip of a heave against the Taoiseach or that he was going to dissolve the Dail.

It was the beginning of a bonkers week. Oh -- and Paul Gogarty brought his 18-month-old daughter Daisy into the press conference.

Bonkers, indeed.

In the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, September 14, at Fianna Fail's think-in, Brian Cowen was regaling his audience in the bar of Galway's Ardilaun Hotel with his impression of golfer Philip Walton.

A few hours later on national radio he appeared to be doing an impression of gravel-voiced singer Barry White.

For in the few intervening hours the Taoiseach appeared to have caught a cold, and when he popped up on 'Morning Ireland' at 8.50am he sounded decidedly hoarse and congested and stumbled over a few words.

Within minutes Fine Gael's Simon Coveney tweeted that he sounded "halfway between drunk and hungover," and within minutes of that all holy hell broke loose around Brian's pounding head.

The startled Taoiseach was ambushed by media in the hotel and denied he was in either of those conditions, while ministers Micheal Martin and Noel Dempsey were wheeled out to explain that their boss was merely "congested".

But to no avail -- the congestion question was picked up by the world media (eg 'Irish Premier Denies Being Hungover during Interview': 'BBC News, and then jokes on 'Jay Leno').

By Wednesday he was forced into admitting, "It wasn't my best performance and I would like to apologise for that."

But with the country's economy in peril, the public mood was unforgiving, and backbench muttering against his leadership began. If his perceived successor Brian Lenihan had moved against him at this low point, chances are that the Taoiseach's Ardilaun performance would've brought down the curtain on his career.

Which was the piece of legislation that put the Government in most peril? One of the various banking bills perhaps? Or NAMA?

Nope. It was the Green's Stag Hunting Bill which had deputies up in a heap when it was put to the vote on Tuesday, June 29.

Oh, there was war over it, with several rural Fianna Fail backbenchers vowing to vote against it.

In the end, Tipperary South's Mattie McGrath broke from the herd and voted against it in the first vote and abstained on the second.

The Bill squeaked through. Afterwards, an unrepentant Mattie bemoaned the Greens' influence.

"You might as well shut up shop and all eat lettuce I suppose and listen to Bob Geldof," he harrumphed on the radio.

But the most pun-tastic story of the year was revealed on 'Morning Ireland' on Friday, November 5, when a chuffed Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith informed a bemused Aine Lawlor that the hard-up citizenry were to receive free cheese under an existing EU scheme.

Cue outrage on the national airwaves and, indeed, much mirth around the globe -- and an endless stream of cheese-related puns.

Brendan should really have known that no gouda would come of it.

Irish Independent

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