Tuesday 23 April 2019

Joan 'busy as a bee' Burton gets going in 'crisis what crisis?' mode

'If a relatively harmonious Taoiseach and Tánaiste can’t agree on refugee numbers, how on earth will accord be achieved by the 28 members of the EU?'
'If a relatively harmonious Taoiseach and Tánaiste can’t agree on refugee numbers, how on earth will accord be achieved by the 28 members of the EU?'

Lise Hand

As Joan Burton descended the steps of Government Buildings alongside transgender activist Dr Lydia Foy, to where a gaggle of media awaited, the press wrangler du jour declared: "The Tánaiste will speak briefly..."

That was as far as he got before as one, the heads of every reporter looked skywards in search of the porcine squadron which must surely be winging its way over the rooftops. For Joan does brevity like Brian Cody does levity.

Still, given the furious pace at which she has hit the ground since returning from holiers, it was possible that the Tánaiste would channel her inner Sam Beckett for the launch of the Gender Recognition Certificate, given the likelihood of another appointment waiting impatiently in the wings.

She has been extremely busy of late, what with announcing that Ireland would be able to take in up to 5,000 Syrian refugees, and backing her coalition compadre Enda following the publication of the Fennelly Report, to confirming that her party would indeed pledge its pre-election troth to Fine Gael.

Phew. And besides all that, already this week she delivered a speech in Athlone on Monday underlining the need for more women in public life; then yesterday morning further displayed her enthusiasm by joining the Taoiseach and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton at the last minute for an early-morning jobs announcement in Dublin.

What could be the reason for so much whizzing about? Certainly any whiff of Eau du Hustings in the air does tend to galvanise politicians, and there's a whiff of it about this autumn, to be sure. Also, the Labour leader knows that a Herculean effort (and most likely a minor miracle also) is urgently required if her party is to snatch some class of victory out of the jaws of electoral defeat.

And there's the added bonus that a constantly moving target is more difficult to pin down. The Tánaiste's declaration that Ireland could take in 5,000 refugees was something of a surprise, given that it's a figure way in excess of the 1,800 mooted by Fine Gael. In fact, the Taoiseach has assiduously avoided throwing about any figure at all.

So was Joan standing by her 5,000, even though it reportedly has sparked tensions among the Coalition partners? Well, yes she was, although she was careful to stress that such an intake would be staggered over several years.

She was in full 'crisis, what crisis?' mode - a stance which is likely to become increasingly frequent as pre-election nerves begin to fray in the Coalition. For inevitably every squabble and tiff becomes magnified when viewed through the prism of an oncoming poll.

The Tánaiste insisted both parties were "in absolute agreement that what we need to do now is put a framework in place, and I do anticipate that over time the numbers will increase to what I indicated previously", she said. "But that will be over a number of years."

She echoed a phrase used earlier in the day by the Taoiseach on the same question. "It's not a numbers game," she added.

True, that. It's not a numbers game - it's a numbers war. But, if a relatively harmonious Taoiseach and Tánaiste can't agree on refugee numbers, how on earth will accord be achieved by the 28 members of the EU? "If you reach out to have a single pat answer in an evolving humanitarian catastrophe, it obviously is impossible and it would be dishonest to say 'I know exactly what is going to happen' because it's dependent on a number of things," she reasoned.

And - mirabile dictu - Joan did keep her answers more or less to the point, and then vanished back indoors.

"EMC meeting," elucidated her press chappie.

Hmm. Whatever a united front she and Enda put up for the cameras over the Numbers Game, one suspects the Taoiseach may have opened the Economic Management Council pow-wow by saying: "Joan, we need to talk..."

Irish Independent

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