| 8.3°C Dublin

Brian swerves on collegial chinwag

THE Taoiseach can protest and deny it until the cows come home, are milked and tucked up snugly in their sheds for the night but his now-fervent embrace of the concept of consensus does feel like, if not a total U-turn, then, at least, an almighty swerve from his usual path of most resistance.

No longer is the Government telling the opposition parties to sling their hook when they start up their yearly clamour to have a gander at the pre-Budget figures.

Instead Brian Cowen is now running full-pelt with the ball which was first hopped by John Gormley, and has invited Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore over to his place for a collegial chinwag on the economic state o'chassis, where the two lads will be shown numbers and given answers to beat the band.

And yesterday at Fianna Fail's annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Co Kildare, it was clear that his 'Road to Do Ask Us' conversion was still intact. During his graveside oration, Brian was flinging armfuls of olive-branches at his political opponents.

"While we may differ on how to achieve our goals, I know that the opposition leaders will agree with Tone when he said that we are better off conducting our own affairs than be subject to others' control.

"I hope that this shared conviction will provide the unifying basis for realistic and focused discussion on the best path ahead," he declared, and added, "we will be providing information to the opposition parties and I will approach further discussions with good faith and a hope that we will collectively be able to show the public a spirit of responsible co-operation".

Remarkably there was no whirring from below Brian's feet as a radical revolutionary of Wolfe Tone's ilk revolved in his grave at the very idea of such a political ceasefire being promoted by the leader of Fianna Fail.

Nor were there any consensus dissenters among the handful of senior and junior ministers, including Mary Hanafin, Noel Dempsey, Pat Carey, Eamon O Cuiv, Tony Kileen, Aine Brady, Dick Roche, Sean Haughey and John Moloney who had turned up for the event.

But if the political turnout was respectable, the small crowd of supporters who made the journey to Bodenstown Cemetery was dubbed "disappointing" by the event's cathaoirleach, Eamon Kane.

But then perhaps there isn't much of an appetite to celebrate Ireland's past while the country's future is so fraught with uncertainty.

For alongside distributing olive-branches the Taoiseach was also sending up a flurry of warning-flares about the slasher horror-flick which will be the 'Nightmare on Kildare Street: Part III' Budget on December 7.

For this year's post-Anglo Budget is shaping up not just to be a hair-shirt, but a hair-trousers and hair-jacket as well. It seems that every time either Cowen or Brian Lenihan mention the fateful day, the outlook gets grimmer and grimmer. And yesterday was no exception.

'Significant levels of additional budgetary correction, above those announced in Budget 2010, will be required," stated the Taoiseach during his oration.

"The main reason for this additional requirement is that growth in our economy is not expected to be as robust as previously forecast. This means that tax revenues in future years will not be as buoyant as previously anticipated," he explained in a masterpiece of understatement. Mindful of where he was standing while delivering this ominous message, the Taoiseach did his best to talk up the resilience and fortitude of the citizenry.

"It is our duty as politicians, legislators, civic leaders and as ordinary citizens to square up to what can and must be done," he said. "Optimism and potential are words we need to hear more of."

But it's tough to maintain a sunny disposition while not knowing just how "significant" the "budgetary correction" will be. There's a real, live Wolf at the door, and there's little chance of an outbreak of optimism until we find out exactly what he wants from us all.

Irish Independent