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Cap'n Cowen plots uncertain course for the HSS Hibernia

Cap'n Cowen looked as if he was enjoying himself on the barge. It's a vessel configured a bit like himself -- an unshowy boat which operates at a ponderous pace and isn't too good at changing direction in mid-stream. (If the main opposition leaders were boats too, Enda would be a Mirror dinghy which bobs about enthusiastically but tends to wobble in choppy seas; while Eamon Gilmore is more akin to a submarine, preferring to keep tactically below the radar until an election is called).

The Taoiseach had two reasons for turning up with Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe at Grand Canal Dock yesterday morning.

The first was to announce €3.3m in funding for city and county boards, and the second was to try and calm the ripples caused by all the argy-bargy over Who Said What about forging a consensus with the opposition parties over the whole raft of horrible budgets looming on the horizon.

For there has been all manner of confusion over whether John Gormley set off on a solo run when he floated the brainwave about getting the opposition parties aboard the HSS Hibernia before it turns into the Titanic.

And then lo and behold after appearing to pour cold water over John's proposal, Cap'n Cowen did something unexpected on Wednesday night and fired off gracious -- very gracious indeed -- invitations to both Enda and Eamon to participate in a leaders' pow-wow to see if any sort of consensus between the parties is possible.

But first Brian had to try and convince various sceptics that his epistolary excursion had been all his own idea and that John Gormley hadn't got him in a headlock and forced him into it.

"John, as a Green Party initiative -- as he's entitled to as party leader -- articulated their view," he insisted.

And as for the idea of sitting down with Enda and Eamon to see if there was common ground on the four-year plan? "Philosophically or in any other way I have no problem with that," shrugged Beatific Brian.

A short while earlier Batt O'Keeffe had been positively jolly over the whole notion that the Greens had thrown any sort of hissy-fit.

"How could you ever accuse the Greens of having a hissy fit!" he grinned. "I've never seen them having a hissy fit in my life," he giggled. (Although it's not too late for one of the Green Party's more sensitive souls to take the hump over such ministerial levity).

And far from executing a U-turn, the Taoiseach was adamant that this invitation to the comely lads of Fine Gael and Labour to come dance with him at the economic crossroads had been his wish all along.

"I've said from the outset that I welcome constructive approaches," he explained.

"Ideally I would love to see a situation where we could all agree in every respect on what needs to be done," he insisted.

The previous foot-dragging it seems was merely caution, not an aversion to rubbing shoulders with Enda and Eamon.

"There has been now for a week this talk that there was going to be some kind of a consensus. It was on, it was off, the Taoiseach was warm about it, luck-warm about it, warm again," groused an unimpressed Eamon. And while the Labour leader was prepared to sit with Brian and talk about the relationship, he wasn't in the mood to bail out any listing ship of state.

It's not looking good. Cap'n Cowen and his crew have less than a month to come up with a four-year budgetary plan, or else the HSS Hibernia risks either being boarded by the Brussels buccaneers or colliding with an economic iceberg. But Brian, Enda and Eamon aren't on the same wavelength at all. Uh-oh. Is that the sound of deckchairs being re-rearranged we hear?

Irish Independent