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Coalition claws are out after Coveney's Labour 'Lynching'

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Old Guard: Kathleen Lynch has shown she is up for the fight. Photo: Tom Burke. Photo: Tom Burke.

Old Guard: Kathleen Lynch has shown she is up for the fight. Photo: Tom Burke. Photo: Tom Burke.

Old Guard: Kathleen Lynch has shown she is up for the fight. Photo: Tom Burke. Photo: Tom Burke.

Nothing epitomised the scenario where Labour increasingly resembles accidental bystanders within the Coalition more than Simon Coveney's somewhat gauche attempts at coalition-building with Fianna Fail.

The sins of Simon, it has to be said, were of the mildest variety.

Commenting on the state of the Irish political world, Simon noted that while Labour were excellent fellows, Micheal Martin wasn't a bad sort of chap either.

Indeed, in the view of Fine Gael's Merchant Prince, 'competent' Micheal could on any given day make for an excellent Tanaiste.

Simon, as ever, meant no harm, but more than a slight element of hastening the poor old Labour Coalition bed-blockers off to the undertakers to create a space for the next set of dance partners surrounded the affair.

Of course, Leo Varadkar had previously made similar remarks.

Simon's somewhat more nuanced rival, apologies, colleague had however sugar-coated the pill with the observation that any FG/FF coalition would, like gay marriage, appear somewhat strange, at least in its initial stages.

Simon, by contrast, had made a lunge for the FF bodice without treating Labour to the dignity of a departing 'it's not you, it's me' speech.

Such, however, is the scale of elegiac despair within the stunned ranks of Labour, that Simon almost escaped scot-free until he was called to heel in the tartest of fashions by the Labour Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch.

Within the Coalition there was a visible intake of breath as the flame-haired minister took the carving knife to her disloyal colleague.

To date, the relationship between the Coalition partners has resembled Ireland and the Troika.

Labour are the nice boys who never give cheek to their Fine Gael bosses, but Ms Lynch is not always a good girl.

Certainly more than a hint of a Greek insurrection surrounded Ms Lynch's declared surprise and anger ''at the lack of loyalty'' from Simon

This was particularly the case, given that, ''for the last 12 months. . . the Labour party has borne the brunt of this cleaning up of messes which Fine Gael has made".

The Labour TD then twisted the knife even further by noting that Simon had been dancing on Labours pre-dug grave to secure an advantage in his ''competition with Leo Varadkar for the leadership of Fine Gael''.

Local differences undoubtedly enhanced the vigour of Ms Lynch's response for there was an element of 'toughs taking on toffs' behind the spat.

Within the enchanted kingdom of Cork, the duo could not be more different; for Simon the good is a southside Merchant Prince bred to the Fine Gael manor born.

The former Workers' Party TD Kathleen is, by contrast, a northside girl from a fiercely working-class background.

The consequences of the scenario where for once the Labour poodle turned around and bit the larger FG dog's tail, may go far beyond the boundaries of Cork.

Fine Gael engaged in an all-out U-turn as ministers and backbenchers, including Simon's own constituency colleague Jerry Buttimer, clucked a chorus of ill-contained disapproval.

Such indeed was the level of disapproval, by the time Frances Fitzgerald and Bernard Durkan finished with Simon, there was no need for Labour to get cross at all.

It is not, of course, the first time that the fiercely independent Lynch has tweaked the Fine Gael tail.

Back when the Magdalene Report came out, Enda Kenny's initial response was circumspect to the point where he resembled a man patting his pockets to check and see if his, or rather the taxpayers' wallet, might be nicked by the elderly Magdalene woman.

However, at the end of a Cabinet briefing where Mr Kenny had continued to dance around the issue of an apology, Ms Lynch, according to one Cabinet source, "buttonholed Enda in the way she can, and let him know in no uncertain terms that 'there will be an apology' and that 'it was not a case of if you give an apology, but when'."

Lest Dear Leader Enda was left in any doubt, the Cork TD gave the Taoiseach a second flea in his ear courtesy of the warning that: "You would be better off being seen to apologise of your own volition rather than having it forced out of you''.

By the time Ms Lynch was finished, such had been the effect of her presentation, even the Cabinet lads admitted: "The men around the Cabinet table made the wrong decision."

Ms Lynch and her leader Joan Burton would, to put it mildly, not be confidantes, but, on this occasion they made for a highly efficient tag team as, in the wake of Lynch's demarche, Joan noted she was, "very confident an appropriate apology and a response incorporating a scheme to look after these women will be established".

Sure enough, a week later, to much applause, Enda issued the most flowing and heartfelt of apologies that any scriptwriter could invent.

Ms Lynch also played a key role in inserting a bit of steel in the Taoiseach's spine when it came to the entire abortion thing.

Once again, the minister's best work has been done behind the scenes as Lynch advised Dear Leader Enda to bring a bit of theatre to his positioning by stressing his status as the guardian of the 'people's book' known as the Constitution.

In fairness, Enda's status as a boy who takes guidance well was confirmed as he took to waving the Constitution at groups of puzzled FG TDs.

The underestimated Lynch has also put manners on that big old beast James Reilly, in a far more sophisticated manner than Roisin Shortall.

Ms Shortall may have resigned in a blaze of Noel Browne-style fulmination, but the wily Lynch, however, stayed and in doing so ring-fenced the state's funding for mental health.

Last week, Ms Lynch was of even greater service to her party and its increasingly embattled leader.

Increasingly, Labour has resembled the sort of political victim of Stockholm syndrome who fall in love with their kidnappers.

The disease has become so extensive that even Joan, who was elected on the premise that someone would finally put manners on those uncouth FG types, has failed to carve out an identity.

In fairness, Ms Burton has been fighting so hard on so many fronts - particularly the Mary Lou one - it has been difficult to go to war with her Coalition partners too.

However, in a party that is far too much in love with death for its own good, Ms Lynch provided Labour with its clearest proof yet, that if they turn and face the big cowardly Fine Gael giant it is more likely to turn and run than to bark back.

In that regard, it probably helps that unlike the political 'newbies' who predominate within Labour, Ms Lynch is part of the old guard who fought off FF, FG and Labour too in her Democratic Left days.

The new TDs may be young and pretty, but like Napoleon's old guard at Waterloo, when it comes to the saving of Labour, grizzled old Labour veterans such as Lynch will decide if the party stands or falls.

Mind you, despite the presence of the old guard, Napoleon lost at Waterloo. But, at least they made a damn hard fight of it.

Factfile

NAME: Kathleen Lynch

AGE: 61

POSITION: Junior Minister for Health

IN THE NEWS BECAUSE: She grabbed aspirant Fine Gael leader Simon Coveney by the ear after he cosied up to Fianna Fail far too openly and showed that if Labour stand up to Fine Gael, the latter are not at all as tough as they appear to be.

Sunday Independent