Monday 18 November 2019

Willie O'Dea: Cast of Artful Dodgers fills Dickensian Cabinet

Willie O'Dea

The Coalition provides obvious candidates for the roles of Scrooge, Heep and Micawber.

No matter what age you are, you reach a point around the second or third week of December when the Christmas break cannot come soon enough.

This can be due to either a sense of over-excitement or anticipation, or a weariness due to the long hours of work and preparation.

It was this latter feeling that pervaded the government benches last Thursday. Rarely have I seen a group of ministers more relieved to see a Dail term end. Not only was it the most relieved end of session I have witnessed in a long time, it was also the most tetchy and bad-tempered one, by far.

There was virtually no evidence that the Season of Good Will had touched the soul of the Tanaiste or his colleagues in the final days of the Dail term.

All that was missing was a few cries of "Bah, humbug" to make the mood truly Dickensian. Not that I am comparing the Tanaiste to Ebenezer Scrooge. Perish the thought. Such a comparison would be unkind and unfair, especially to Scrooge, as he ultimately proved that he was capable of redemption.

If I was to compare Mr Gilmore to a Dickens character it would, most likely, be Mr Bumble, the Beadle in Oliver Twist. He is the one who explodes with rage when Oliver dares to ask for more food. Deputies Keaveney and Shortall know what that experience looks and sounds like, as do all those whose respite care grants were cut.

While some might argue that the Minister for Health would fill the role of Bumble better than Gilmore, the reality is that, for all his faults, Dr Reilly has not yet plumbed the depths reached by Deputies Gilmore and Rabbitte.

Moving from one wing of Labour to the other, while it might be easy to see Joan Burton in the role of Mrs Bumble (nee Corney), the woman whose marriage to Bumble sees his life become a misery and their careers end in failure, there is a bit more of the Miss Havisham about the Minister for Social Protection.

Like the Dickens character, all her actions and pronouncements have to be viewed through the prism of her past loss. In Ms Burton's case, it is not getting the role she truly coveted: Finance. In Havisham's case, it is her abandonment at the altar.

The role of Uriah Heep is a more difficult one to assign. Though there are several candidates around the cabinet table who exhibit Heep's yes-man obsequiousness, none demonstrate his cloying shows of humility. Indeed, when it comes to humbleness, it is hard to conceive of anyone more the antithesis of Heep than Minister Rabbitte.

As for the Taoiseach, he is probably the toughest to cast. Doubtless he would see himself as a cross between Little Nell and Nicholas Nickleby: the gallant, put-upon hero who struggled through adversity and cruel injustice to emerge as a successful man of the people.

While that may have been how he wanted to portray himself two years ago, the reality is that he is now more like a bizarre cross between the hapless Mr Micawber and the hard-hearted Mr Gradgrind.

Like Micawber, he ducks and dives his way through life as he waits for "something to turn up", such as a deal on banking debt, perhaps? Meanwhile, he embraces hardship with the words, "Welcome misery, hunger, tempest and beggary!", though in Enda's case, the Mr Gradgrind element comes to the fore, as these are all things to be welcomed and imposed on those in his care, not himself.

So there they are, the Cabinet's cast of Dickensian characters. If only they were not just playacting at it.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City,

www.willieodea.ie.

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