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Joan Burton TD and Minister for Rural Development Ann Phelan TD pictured with Savour Kilkenny Food Festivals committee members Ian Brennan, Club House Hotel, chef Anne Neary, Ryeland Cookery School and Ormonde Hotels executive chef Mark Gaffney at the Festival Programme launch for the 8th Savour Kilkenny Food Festival

Joan Burton TD and Minister for Rural Development Ann Phelan TD pictured with Savour Kilkenny Food Festivals committee members Ian Brennan, Club House Hotel, chef Anne Neary, Ryeland Cookery School and Ormonde Hotels executive chef Mark Gaffney at the Festival Programme launch for the 8th Savour Kilkenny Food Festival

Joan Burton TD and Minister for Rural Development Ann Phelan TD pictured with Savour Kilkenny Food Festivals committee members Ian Brennan, Club House Hotel, chef Anne Neary, Ryeland Cookery School and Ormonde Hotels executive chef Mark Gaffney at the Festival Programme launch for the 8th Savour Kilkenny Food Festival

WHAT with pelt-free moggies, savage seagulls and rabid Rabbittes, it was all quite animal crackers at the Labour think-in.

Joan Burton must've slept easy in her leaba in White's Hotel on Monday night, certain that she had negotiated the various minefields in the shape of media interviews about this, that and the other.

But no.

In the course of answering a question on whether the Government was quietly tiptoeing away from pursuing the Holy Grail of securing a Euro deal on bank recapitalisation, she pointed out that "there's more than one way for skinning a cat".

Quicker than one could say Meow, a stern missive zinged Joanwards from the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN). "We cannot have her coming out with phrases like she did yesterday talking about skinning cats to sell her story of the upcoming budget," it thundered.

What a cat-astrophe. But the Tanaiste wasn't feline apologetic when asked if she regretted her choice of words. "It is a long-standing phrase that people in the part of Dublin I come from use," she declared. "As an animal lover myself, I accept their point of view, but it is a well-known phrase".

It was the calm after the, er, calm in Wexford on Day Two of the party think-in. There had been no fall-outs or fisticuffs in the bar on the previous evening. There was even a bit of a sing-song, including a heartfelt rendition by a junior minister of Johnny Logan's Eurovision belter, 'Hold Me Now', which everyone agreed should replace 'Amhran na bhFiann' as the national anthem, because it would sound mighty being roared out by 80,000 people in Croker.

Joan even went out of her way to say lovely things about the former Communications Minister who had been communicating Distinct Disgruntlement the previous day by failing to Wear His Frown Upside Down for the Family Photo in the hotel. She assured Pat Kenny during an interview on Newstalk that Pat Rabbitte is "a bit of a national treasure and a Labour Party treasure, and Pat is not somebody who has a completely...let's call it….sunny, chuckly demeanour," she said with Distinct Diplomacy. "He's good at one-liners, he's very witty, but he always has a quite serious solemn demeanour".

Goodness. Even the witty Pat would be lost for words after such paean of praise.

But Joan wasn't feeling the same gra for her counterpart in Fianna Fail. Earlier yesterday at his own party's parliamentary pow-wow in Roscommon, Micheal Martin had come over all Braveheart, painted his face blue and announced, "I'm preparing to be the next Taoiseach".

Well, Micheal will have to achieve his dream without the aid of the Labour Party. When asked if she could envisage Fianna Fail and Labour as political bedfellows, she was less than enthusiastic. "Given that we have been dealing with Fianna Fail's legacy of the horrors that the country fell into in the last number of years in office, I am not sure that we would be rushing into that position," said Joan.

Nor was she the only Labour minister who thinks that a Fianna Fail member is for the birds. A bemused Environment Minister Alan Kelly received word via pigeon-post from Roscommon that Kerry senator Ned O'Sullivan had been fulminating again about the savage seagulls, and bewailing the fact that "people who had lived and worked in Europe were perplexed at the Irish indifference to the scourge."

Ned also made clear his intention of presenting lucky Alan with a file on the seagull peril. Back in Wexford, the minister was unruffled. "Some of Senator O'Sullivan's ideas are for the birds," he reckoned. "I understand it's unlikely that seagulls will follow ministerial direction, but either way I'm not going to get in a flap about it".

Purrfectly understandable on the part of Mr Kelly.

But with the Budget looming only weeks away, the seagulls won't be able to menace the denizens of Leinster House anyway.

There'll be too many Budget kites flying over the building for the birds to get within screeching distance of the place.

Irish Independent