Lise Hand: Racy Richard gets to the bottom of things
On the rowdy FF backbenches, the two leading wiseguys had been warned to mind their manners
Nobody could blame Richard Bruton for seeking a bit of brief escapism from the unfolding Nightmare on Kildare Street.
One minute the party is going along nicely in the polls, and then all of a sudden their star turn George Lee shockingly turns into Bruce Lee, delivering a flurry of karate chops to an aghast Enda.
Overnight there are "loud mutterings" (according to the karate kid) about possible heaves against the party leader, amid heavy hints from George that it was the constant cold shoulder given to him by Crown Prince Richard who was responsible for his winter of discontent.
So after the party's confabulation yesterday morning, Richard obligingly agreed to talk to the media on the plinth of Leinster House. Caught unprepared, he was carrying a sheaf of papers and a takeout coffee.
It transpired that tucked away in the sheaf (but not, alas, sufficiently buried) was a printout of a story from the 'Daily Telegraph', headlined 'Harriet Harman in the running for Rear of the Year Award'.
Goodness. After getting the bum's rush from George who managed to make an ass out of Fine Gael, Richard must've been tickled to read that British Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman, "who wants pictures of Page 3 girls banned from the workplace to protect the sensitivity of some staff, is an unlikely candidate for the honour".
How on earth did the serious-minded Richard Bruton end up with this piece of racy reading?
There was a bit of head-scratching when this question was posed to the Fine Gael backroom boys, until one source reckoned he had come upon the answer.
"I think it's one of the policy papers that George submitted to Richard," he said with a perfectly straight face.
However, there were serious issues to address with the media, and on the plinth Richard was eager to offer assurances that the party top brass were determined to get to the bottom of just what did make George flee.
The party's deputy leader was the very picture of wounded puzzlement.
He may not have dandled George on his knee and burped him, but as far as Richard was concerned, nor did he leave him neglected in his cot.
"I don't accept that at all," he said with gentle reproach.
"I sat down with George before the Budget to go through the response we would give to the Budget statement and we went through that," he explained.
It was an assured performance, and Richard even managed to walk the slippery tightrope between reiterating that he had leadership abilities while simultaneously denying any impression that he was poised to wrestle the crown from Enda.
"I've never said anything else but that I'd love to be leader of Fine Gael," he pointed out with a smile.
"Fine Gael is a party that I've given my whole life to. I've been loyal to all party leaders and I work the job I'm given to do and that's what I'll continue to do," he insisted.
George may have cleaned out his desk in his lovely Leinster House corner office by the afternoon, but it wasn't until 4.40pm that his departure became official when the Ceann Comhairle kicked off the Dail Order of Business with the following brief statement.
"We move on to an announcement re resignation of member," intoned Seamus Kirk as a chorus of "SSSHHHH" ran around the Dail chamber.
"I wish to announce for the information of the House that I received a letter of resignation from Deputy George Lee as member of Dail Eireann with effect from Monday, 8th February, 2010, and I've laid the letter before the Dail," he said.
There was complete silence. Up on the rowdy Fianna Fail backbenches, the two leading wiseguys, Timmy Dooley and Thomas Byrne -- Dr Heckle and Mr Jibe -- had obviously been warned to mind their manners and were wearing the anguished expressions sported by staunch republicans during the playing of 'God Save the Queen' in Croker.
The moment passed without any dog's abuse, and Enda lived to fight another day.
Earlier on the plinth, Richard Bruton had been anxious to back his leader.
"Enda set out the chain of events and I think people felt that he had acted very honourably in the way he dealt with the affair," explained Richard.
Phew. The backbenchers are mollified (for now).
At least he and Enda aren't going to be left with a rump party.