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Lise Hand: Leo's lip shows Cabinet is still learning to mind its language

IT was former New York governor Mario Cuomo who once remarked: "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose."

The same principle -- as the new Government is finding out -- applies to making the switch from one side of the Dail chamber to the other.

The sort of casual asides and stream-of-consciousness loose talk which is acceptable from opposition deputies is liable to wreak havoc when uttered by senior members of the Cabinet.

And it's a sure sign that the governmental wagons are being hastily assembled in a circle when one of the more forthright ministers refuses to be drawn into a hoohah sparked by remarks made by his cabinet colleague Loose-Lips Leo Varadkar.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn had been addressing academics and boffins at the Royal Irish Academy yesterday on changes recommended by the Hunt Report to third-level education.

Afterwards, he was asked about Leo's remarks that Ireland may need a second dig-out from our IMF/EU overlords. Did Ruairi agree with the Transport Minister?

"I've no comment to make at all. I'm just talking about education," was his prosaic response.

It's not just Ruairi who's on a steep learning curve.

Over the past week several members of government, including the Taoiseach, have been getting a sharp lesson in the intense level of scrutiny which now applies to their speeches and statements.

First there was the furore over Enda's 'borrowing' of Barack Obama's own words without attribution in his barnstorming warm-up speech for the US president on College Green last week.

And then this was swiftly followed by the Taoiseach's comment that his Enterprise Minister, Richard Bruton, was following a "personal agenda" with his plan to cut the wages of lower-paid workers, after a handful of Labour TDs went berserk over the proposal.

Again Enda found his words had put him at the sharp end of an unnecessary and unwelcome forensic examination. Was this a reopening of the bitter wars of last year's heave, was Enda hanging Richard out to dry, or was it simply an injudicious choice of language?

But this was topped by the pronouncements of Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who put both his size 12s into it by declaring that not only was it "very unlikely" that Ireland would be let next or nigh back into the bond markets next year, but that such a scenario may lead to us going cap-in-hand to the IMF/EU for a second time.

Well, all holy hell broke out in the wake of this solo jaunt, for fear that Loose Lips Leo would sink the Ship of State.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan promptly slapped down such talk yesterday, by insisting: "There's no question of a bailout package having to be brought in next year."

Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan was also swift to react -- although he took a sympathetic view of Gobgate.

"I think it's very very hard to get the balance right with communicating what's in your mind and having that taken up in a mistaken way," he said. "On a weekly basis, I see statements from officials in all different countries about different things in which I think, 'Well, maybe he regrets having said that.'

"I'm not passing that comment on Minister Varadkar, but I think it is very difficult to combine openness and willingness to communicate with the general public, with making statements that can be interpreted by markets in ways that can be destabilising."

Patrick Honohan has a point. Leo may have been stating the bleeding obvious about a quick return to the bond markets, but -- just like the peace process -- our delicate dance with the IMF is about nuanced language and careful expression of opinions.

Still, Gobgate is better than no communication at all, which was the leitmotif of the last government, which believed that it said it best when it said nothing at all.

It was a bit rich to hear Fianna Fail TD Michael McGrath on 'Morning Ireland' moaning about the "mixed message" from government.

Three words for you, deputy -- 'Dermot Ahern' and 'IMF'.

Irish Independent