THERE was a bit of a laboratory experiment going on outside the Young Scientists Exhibition yesterday. One by one, various government ministers rolled up to the entrance of the RDS only to find themselves under the microscope like some suspicious bacteria on a Petri dish.
For there had been little abatement overnight in the sky-high levels of confusion and conjecture swirling around whether or not a heave had been launched against Brian Cowen.
The Three Ministerial Mut-ineers (Mary Hanafin, Micheal Martin and Brian Lenihan) were still keeping schtum, apart from the odd coy come-hither hint dangled in front of bewildered backbenchers and perplexed press. The Taoiseach was sequestered away in his office all day, obligingly making himself available to a stream of party members eager to bend his ear about what a catastrophic/brilliant leader he is.
There was no information, only speculation. And so the fact that various government ministers were scheduled to fetch up at the Young Scientists Exhibition yesterday was a golden opportunity to forensically examine their views on the leadership kerfuffle and to try to divine a scintilla of order amid the disarray.
First on to the dissecting-board was Conor Lenihan, who had been busy picking the brains of his constituents in Dublin South-West. And the people, it transpired, have spoken. "Pretty much the majority of the people feel it's appropriate that we should have a change of leadership now, ahead of the general election," he declared.
But this wasn't his view, he was keen to stress. "I haven't made up my mind on that matter," he evaded.
Next to arrive was Minister for Fun and Faux-Heaves, Mary Hanafin. She plunged briskly in to the noisy melee of the exhibition hall, patiently posing with all sorts of odd props and gaggles of teenagers. After all, they may not be old enough to vote, but their mammies and daddies are.
But there was one tricky moment when an enthusiastic bunch of youthful boffins asked to test her blood pressure, right in front of the media, right in the middle of a mental party meltdown. Without hesitation Mary rolled up her sleeve. And only she looked unsurprised by the result.
"Normal blood pressure, despite everything that's going on," she chirped. Impressive. Luckily for the minister, the young scientists couldn't test for the level of steel in her spine. Finally, she sailed out into the other melee -- the pack of media keeping vigil outside the entrance. But anyone hoping she would hoist the skull-and-crossbones and launch her own hat into the ring was to be sorely disappointed. But she did raise a red flag over the Taoiseach's plan to spend the next couple of days in conclave before reaching any decision.
"I do think this consultation process could be quick. I think it should take place today," she declared. "I don't think it's in the best interests of anybody, either the Taoiseach or the party, to have it carrying on over the weekend."
Also touring the stands at the same time was Mary Coughlan, but unlike Mary Hanafin the Tanaiste chose not to chat to the press (although she did turn up shortly afterwards on Radio One, assuring a bamboozled Sean O'Rourke that "Fianna Fail first of all will continue to have a seismic and considerable role in political life". However, a "seismic" role usually involves fissures opening and stuff falling through them -- like, say, banks.
The day wore on. There was not a peep out of Micheal Martin or Brian Lenihan. And then it turned out that Mary Hanafin didn't have a face-to-face meeting with the Taoiseach but just gave him a telephonic talking-to. And afterwards a terse statement explained that she was "satisfied that my views will be taken into consideration".
Get it together, folks. Either throw your hats in the ring or row in firmly behind beleaguered Brian. Do something.
A heave isn't rocket science, you know.