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John Drennan: It's curtains for 2011 but who gets top billing in Dail muppet show?

History may yet define 2011 as being the year of the democratic revolution... that didn't happen. After his election victory, Taoiseach Enda Kenny dared to suggest that the result of election 2011 represented some Irish equivalent of the collapse of the Berlin wall.

For a time, when the weather was sunny, it might even have felt like that until a war-weary population was told our new Rainbow of (mostly) Grumpy Old Men (and Frances and Joan too) could only offer us four more years of sweat, tears, austerity and appeasement.

Since the initial months, the performance of the Rainbow has increasingly resembled that bathetic scene in Animal Farm where the animals looked at the pigs and the senior civil service mandarins, sorry humans, and found it impossible to differentiate between the two.

Still, as some burly fellow whose name we forget used to say, 'we are where we are', and there is scant evidence we will get out of here any time soon. And to be fair, after the treaty of surrender to the troika that was signed by a dysfunctional Fianna Fail, the state of their successors does increasingly bring to mind that old Wild West plea to refrain from 'shooting the piano player, he's doing his best'.

So who are the winners and losers and, more importantly, still the fortuitous award winners of 2011?

Best Minister

Brendan Howlin

Closely fought out between four main contenders. Simon 'my second car is a yacht' Coveney has impressed in Agriculture while Michael Noonan has brought an episcopal calm to a government fiscal policy that may not be as certain as outward appearances suggest.

Ultimately, it is the two Labour ministers, Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin, who have most impressed. In Burton's case she has wisely resisted the temptation to play the Joan of Arc writhing on a pile of burning faggots role. Instead Joan has, like any good Fabian socialist, got on with the job of improving us all and has displayed a rare knowledge of what is the biggest ministry outside of Finance and Public Sector Reform.

Brendan Howlin has also played a dubious hand with the sort of cunning normally seen in an old alley cat trying to negotiate the glassed top of a 40 ft wall. So far, his achievement in marrying the essentially contradictory ambitions of securing public sector reform and implementing the Croke Park deal means Howlin wins ... this year. A veteran like Brendan will, though, recognise that, in this place, the journey from rooster to feather duster is short.

Worst Minister

In fairness, it is too early in the life of the Government to give such an unfair award to our hard-working Cabinet -- oh wait, we have one but you'll have to go to the Gobshite of the Year Award to find out which honoured soul follows in the footsteps of giants like Ivor Callely.

Most Credible Independent

Shane Ross

It's all a bit communal over there for one leader to stand out but Shane Ross and Joe Higgins have consistently impressed if only because of their intriguingly similar critiques of the collapse of capitalism as we knew it.

When it comes to the performance of Mick Wallace, you'll have to see The Miss Piggy Award.

Competition like this means the bar for winning this gong is pretty low but Ross does, in fairness, clear it by a substantial margin.

Best Opposition

Frontbench Spokesperson

Mary Lou McDonald

We're tempted to say that when we remember any of their names we'll fill this slot but that would be a little harsh. For Fianna Fail, Eamon O Cuiv (no, we're not joking) Dara Calleary and Sean Fleming have been consistently impressive as have the Sinn Fein new breed.

In contrast the Independents have, with the exception of Shane Ross, not been at all as clever as they think they are. After some consideration we have decided to award this prize to Mary Lou McDonald who has the uniquely difficult task of restoring the credibility of Sinn Fein/New Fianna Fail when Gerry Adams stops talking.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Award

James Reilly

There really could only be one winner here courtesy of a series of pre-budgetary performances by James Reilly which even left senior ministers wailing: "Jaysus, he frightened the living daylights out of us''.

Sadly, Reilly's bloodcurdling wails have had one unfortunate consequence whereby a whole bunch of peasants (otherwise known as backbench TDs) are now chasing after him, brandishing the political equivalent of lighted torches and pitch-forks. Watch this space next year.

Best Junior Minister Michael Ring

Woeful indeed is the fate of the poor junior minister during a recession for during times of plenty, the odd crumb will fall from the rich man's ministerial table. So far, though, the poor juniors have resembled a collective of orphaned Olivers.

Outside of Lucinda Creighton, perhaps the most impressive of the current crop is Michael Ring. Helped by his status as one of the few with a few bob for grants, Michael Ring has adapted to office without losing any of the outspokenness which forged such a close bond between the Taoiseach and his constituency colleague.

Worst Junior Minister

Owing to the absence of any signs of life, good or bad, in the junior ministerial ranks, we are imposing an embargo on this one until next year.

Survivors of the Year

Biffo and the FF/PD Bash Street Gang

As you sip your rationed single can of Dutch Gold in front of where the widescreen plasma TV used to be before the Viper repossessed it, console yourself with the happy fate of Biffo, Bertie, Mary Harney, Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern, Ray Burke, Mary Hanafin, Michael McDowell and the rest of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats' political Bash Street Gang.

Isn't it grand to see that the lads are all trousering five and six-figure pensions as a thank you from us for the great work they are doing. There now, that put a smile on all your faces.

Most Modest (Former) Politician

Mary Harney

It is with some delight we give this award to Mary Harney. In the past, when Florence Nightmare won a libel suit, the world was told that the settlement involved a sum of money towards her legal costs and also towards a charity. However, a strange modesty appears to have crept over the lady about the destination of her huge libel settlement from Newstalk. Do take us out of our suspense and tell, Mary.

The Miss Piggy Award

Mick 'the crying child' Wallace

Mention of Ms Harney brings us nicely on to Mick Wallace's award. He might look like Miss Piggy with a perm but sadly the incoherent, rambling Dail performances suggest Mick Wallace is not fit to lace the trotters of our heroine. He's at the crying-in-the-chamber business which really is the last refuge of the twit.

Backbencher of the Year

Frank Feighan

Those who caught the eye when it comes to this award include Aodhan O'Riordan and Ged Nash of Labour whilst Dara Murphy, Aine Collins, Tony Lawlor and Pascal Donohoe of Fine Gael have also caught our attention.

If we have any problem with the new brigade of TDs,

it is that they appear to have the odd notion that back-benchers should think independently. In the end, we decided that Frank Feighan's courage in holding the line on Roscommon hospital, and, even more courageously still, going to war with Terry Leyden, means he is this year's winner.

Gobshite of the Year

Alan Shatter

If he was a chocolate drop he would lick himself. The problem with Alan, though, is that everyone else would leave him in the tray.

Normally Mr Shatter's capacity to inspire a level of detestation among his enemies that is only matched by the loathing he inspires among his political allies amuses us.

However, the critical role this advanced sufferer from small man syndrome, in every regard, played in the loss of the referendum on Dail inquiries means Mr Shatter is a worthy successor to previous winners of this award such as James Bannon.

Sunday Independent