Thursday 24 October 2019

Lise Hand: Pensions row not extinct, but Enda has another bone to pick

Lise Hand

THERE they all were, staring glassily at each other. It was a right menagerie of gimlet-eyed hawks and wolves and sheep-like animals and old bats and a pair of savage-looking dogs getting stuck into each other.

And meanwhile, next door to Leaders' Questions in the Dail, the Dead Zoo -- aka the Natural History Museum -- was re-opening for business.

But whether it's the Live Zoo in Leinster House or Dead Zoo on Merrion Street, there's no denying the denizens of the former are living through some torrid dog-eat-dog times.

Doubtless the Taoiseach was hoping that the whole pension palaver would have gone the same way as the dodo by the time he got to the office yesterday morning.

After all, both Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore had managed to promptly shepherd their respective flocks on to the high moral ground over the issue of foregoing ministerial pensions.

But Brian was stuck with a few fiercely recalcitrant mules who had dug in their hooves in and weren't in the mood to hand over anything to anyone.

A few stragglers were trickling into the pension-pen during the day, including senators Ivor Callely and Terry Leyden and TD Michael Woods, but there were still a few refuseniks wandering about, making their boss look like a headless chicken.

But luckily for Brian, both Enda and Eamon opted to let him off the hook during Leaders' Questions. For Enda, Greece was the word and he wanted to know how much the Greeks owed to Irish banks.

The Taoiseach didn't know and plumped for the phone-a-friend option. "It would be a matter for the Minister for Finance," he said.

The Labour leader wanted to take a trip back into the Dead Zoo of Brian's former existence as Minister for Finance.

Eamon has hoping to make stuffed pigs fly by wringing an admission of making a mistake out of Brian, who is famously phobic of the word 'Sorry'.

The Taoiseach accepted no such thing, and expressed the opinion that the past was a different country. Eamon looked suitably unimpressed.

"The Taoiseach would have the House believe that he had nothing to do with the past," he snorted.

"He is the past, and certainly so as far as this is concerned because he was the Minister for Finance. He brought in bankers to draft legislation on banking, to write their own rules," Eamon sniped.

But Brian's stray herd may have left his nerves in shreds.

Perhaps he was imagining his own head mounted and stuffed among the exhibits in the museum next door, with gaggles of wide-eyed school-kids taking curious pokes at the country's unluckiest-ever general, the Biffosaurus Hexed. And given his luck, he'd be placed right next to the flogged carcass of the Celtic Tiger.

For Brian quite forgot his manners and was most ungallant to Labour's Joan Burton as Leaders' Questions limped to an inconclusive conclusion.

"That is not an answer," she barked, interrupting his reply to her party leader. The Taoiseach rolled his eyes heavenwards.

"There is no reply I could give that would satisfy Deputy Burton on anything," he retorted. "I am sure there may even be a few people in her own party that have the same feeling from time to time."

Nor could his mood have been improved by the lunchtime announcement by independent stray Jim McDaid that he wasn't prepared to surrender his €22,487 pension. "It's been a week of whipping TDs into place," he declared.

As far as the Donegal North-East deputy was concerned, it was the media that ran the country: "And that is not a way to run a democracy."

Maybe the Taoiseach should've nipped into the Dead Zoo with his Minister for Fun, Mary Hanafin, who was doing the re-opening honours in the National History museum yesterday afternoon.

She certainly was having a great time wandering around the non-political animals with a gaggle of children in her wake.

"Is that a hippo or a rhinoceros?" she asked the kids, who scrambled to educate her.

And she put in a pretty good parrot impression herself when she was asked if the remaining Fianna Fail politicians should surrender their pensions.

"At this stage it's up to them," she repeated three times.

But then there was a final brief moment of drama during the day when all the power suddenly went out in Leinster House. Lights winked off, computers went dark, phones died.

The only audible sound was the voice of Joan Burton who was on her feet in the Dail chamber during questions to Brian Lenihan. "That's all we need now -- the lights have gone out!" she wailed.

Goodness. Fancy our leaders forgetting to pay the 'leccy bill.

They must be waiting for Dr McDaid to cough up his €22,487 so they can get the power back on. Hurry up, Jim, there's a good lad.

Irish Independent

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