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Lise Hand: Gerry's bark pushes affable Enda to bare his teeth

GOODNESS, for a minute there, it looked as if Gerry Adams had discovered a chink in the Affable Armour of Enda Kenny.

Unlike his prickly predecessor in the Taoiseach's chair whose hackles were up and down like a fiddler's elbow during tetchier exchanges in Dail, Enda so far has avoided losing the head with the Opposition.

When under pressure he can get flustered and retreat into answers which are woollier than a hillside of sheep -- but he rarely displays outright annoyance.

And this was the case yesterday during Leaders' Questions as a barrage of brickbats was flung his way -- he remained calm while Micheal Martin was hounding him about proposed cuts to DEIS schools and Gerry Adams was hauling him over the coals over community hospital closures.

However, perhaps he had used up his entire reservoir of Zen by the time Taoiseach's Questions rolled around later in the afternoon.

Once again, the Sinn Fein president attempted to discombobulate Enda by raising the thorny issue of pay hikes to government advisers -- a topic upon which Enda has been less than enthusiastic in recent times.

Gerry brought up this week's nugget of news that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney lobbied last year for a salary of €130,000 -- well in excess of the salary cap -- for a special adviser, citing the adviser's "personal commitment to the country" in his plea to keeper of the cash Brendan Howlin.

"Will the Taoiseach inform the Dail of the number of occasions on which he intervened to secure the employment of special advisers in his or other departments on salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisers?" demanded Gerry.

Now, this is a sore subject for the Taoiseach after the pounding he took over recent revelations concerning his own intervention on behalf of the pay packet of Ciaran Conlon, who moved from Enda's engine-room to be an adviser to Richard Bruton.

Enda assured Gerry, "I do not interfere or intervene in that process," before then trying to divert the topic to Sinn Fein ministerial appointments in the North.

But Gerry wouldn't be distracted.

"You said you have not intervened to secure the employment of special advisers in your or other departments and salaries in excess of the salary range guidelines for special advisers. Would you like to reflect on that . . . ?" he enquired craftily.

Enda was stuck, and began to get a bit cranky. For of course he had stuck his oar in over the matter of Ciaran Conlon. "Yes, it was in breach of the guidelines and I have answered questions about why sanction was sought for that," he said defensively.

"The individual involved had worked in the department without pay for quite a number of months. I felt it time that a decision should be made about his position being sanctioned," he added after further haranguing from his Sinn Fein tormentor.

"Was he a member of Fine Gael?" Gerry persisted.

"That's quite immaterial," Enda huffed indignantly, as opposition deputies took careful note. One toy out of the cot doth not a tantrum make -- but it's a start.

Irish Independent