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No pressure, Enda, but you need to get a grip

THREE cheers for the IMF. Its arrival here a year ago is just as much good news now as it was then when it landed along with the teams from the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Sure, we ceded our sovereignty. It was embarrassing and undignified.

But mainly it was a huge relief, and remains so. Looking back over the past few weeks on the unedifying pre-budgetary behaviour of the Government it's just as well the troika are here to keep us on the straight and narrow.

So much of what has gone on, has been about the Fine Gael and Labour parties, and not about Ireland. This Budget was never going to be pleasant, but boy have they made heavy weather of it. On various levels individual ministers, and the two coalition parties, have been trying to outsmart and outdo each other.

It's all been taking place within the straitjacket that is our one-year-old bailout deal. Imagine what the Coalition would have made of it all in the absence of this restraining influence?

Given all the leaks and kite-flying it's been impossible to know, for example, whether, post-Budget, we should be living in desperate fear of falling ill (a la Health Minister James Reilly) or rushing off to book a long weekend in a luxury country house, stopping to buy a new fridge on the way home (a la Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar).

Even within government itself there is a level of confusion about what are the leaks that might be part of an actual communication strategy to soften people up, or which ones are from ministers attempting to protect their own bailiwick, or which are those that involve one coalition party attempting to trump the other.

Both of the Cabinet doctors, James and Leo, are giving very different prognoses for how we are going to feel in the post- Budget period. So who has the best bedside manner then?

In the case of Dr Reilly he's been acting more like he was back in medical politics and representing the Irish Medical Organisation than a Cabinet minister. His relative newness to national politics has been painfully obvious as he rather crudely set about trying to protect his patch, regardless of the trail of fear left in his wake.

Leo Varadkar, on the other hand, was being himself, although bringing a touch of Patsy from 'Ab Fab' to the Budget consultation. He may have been trying to ameliorate some of the damage done by Minister Reilly and others, but really he only annoyed people with his insensitivity.

Government backbenchers appear to be at as much disadvantage as the public. For so many TDs, especially in Fine Gael, this is their first Budget and they are utterly dreading it. They are in fear of the backlash. That does not bode well for presenting a disciplined united front next week.

If I was a Labour backbencher I would dread it even more because of this ridiculous new arrangement to have Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin having his own Budget Day on Monday, with Michael Noonan doing it on Tuesday. Maybe there is something I'm missing here but which part of a Labour minister being the one to announce a whole raft of cuts, including to child benefit, seems like a good idea.

Perhaps Labour wishes to present itself as a responsible party of government, and one which prevented Fine Gael from going too far with cuts. However, the optics of it all coming from the mouth of Minister Howlin will be very difficult to overcome.

I'd say Michael Noonan, left with the tax and jobs element on Tuesday, is fairly thrilled with the arrangement. This plan also shows again though, how so much of this has been about the two parties and ego. The public would far rather get it all over and done within a few hours.

Let's hope Taoiseach Enda Kenny takes back some control of matters in his state of the nation address expected tomorrow night. He needs to set the scene for a Budget where he talks about how the Government's priority is to protect the needy, and where those who can contribute will be called upon to do so, and how creating jobs is a top government priority.

When I read in this newspaper on Monday morning that he was considering addressing the nation just ahead of last night's 'Late Late Toy Show' (LLTS) I wondered if it was some sort of a joke.

The hijacking of a national institution such as the LLTS, a programme that traditionally brings such happiness and joy into the nation's sitting rooms, (never more needed than now) would have bordered on the politically insane.

But, in fairness to the man, he had just lost his mother and RTE's Christmas scheduling wouldn't have been uppermost on his mind.

He has since reconsidered and will probably address the nation tomorrow night.

You do have to wonder, though, if Enda didn't bounce himself into this particular national TV appointment, and maybe regrets it now a little bit.

If you remember, the Taoiseach announced his plan at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting just after its disastrous presidential campaign. Everyone was expecting skin and hair to fly at the party meeting, given Gay Mitchell's appalling performance, as well as FG's bad day in the Dublin West by-election.

But clever clogs Enda announces to the TDs and senators that he intended doing this national telly message, and suddenly that became the story, and the presidency fiasco was forgotten about.

The only problem with this cunning plan is that now the Taoiseach has to go ahead and address the nation. If there wasn't enough riding on it before, there certainly is now, since the pre-Budget period has turned into such a fiasco.

No pressure, Enda.

Irish Independent