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Joan's happy family takes aim at their noisy neighbours

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Labour TDs and Senators

Labour TDs and Senators

Labour TDs and Senators

Joan Burton was in the courtyard of White's Hotel doing a doorstep interview with a posse of reporters before the starter's flag was raised on Labour's two-day pow-wow. She was standing underneath a large sign for the hotel's Tranquillity Spa, which may have been subliminal wishful thinking on the part of the party leader.

There were all sorts of questions being thrown in her direction, such as if she was disconsolate that the latest Red C opinion poll showed a mere teensy rise for Labour of one point to 8pc, while their coalition partners Fine Gael were flying, up three to 28pc. Surely this is less a Burton Bounce than a Burton Bunny-Hop?

Joan took it on the chin, and pointed out there were "positive indications" in the poll. (True, Labour didn't drop any further, and Fianna Fail appear becalmed).

Then she was asked what she thought of the ongoing spot of handbags between the Taoiseach and his Health Minister, Leo 'I'm A Big Boy' Varadkar.

"It's a big job, taking on the Health portfolio," she added, "As Leo had said himself he's not a newbie, he's been in government for three-and a-half-years. And he's not a smallie either, we know," she declared to the gaggle - or giggle - of amused media.

Joan was flinging about positive vibes like snuff at a wake. When asked if the Government was tiptoeing away from their claims that the job is oxo as far as retrospective recapitalisation for our banks was concerned, she was upbeat. "There's more than one way for skinning a cat," she declared.

The party were in Howlin Country for their two-day get-together - the excursion not exactly helped by the forthright Willie Penrose popping up on 'Morning Ireland' earlier to scoff at the whole notion of think-ins as "play-acting".

And certainly the party was eager to play Happy Families and show t he beady-eyed media that the gore-fest of pre-summer, when the Labour ranks looked like the last scene of Hamlet, with the decapitated ministerial heads of Eamon Gilmore, Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte rolling around the political stage.

Eamon Gilmore, most relaxed after a recent jaunt to China, arrived mid-afternoon, just in time for the 'family photo'. The entire parliamentary party (minus Willie Penrose) lined up on the curved staircase and grinned up at the cameras. But alas, there was Pat Rabbitte drifting unhappily at the extreme right wing of the family huddle, looking like the burly ghost of Hamlet's Da. As soon as the photographers had clicked away, Pat shot back up the steps at a blinding speed which would have brought tears of pride to the eyes of Usain Bolt.

And although the Labour troops were insisting that this was a chance for them to mull over the forthcoming Budget next month, in reality they were pondering the next general election, which could, like a present from a busy seagull, descend upon their unsuspecting heads at any time.

Some of the party were taking quiet pot-shots at their partners in government. "Enda's war with Alan Shatter didn't help us one bit in the local elections, and now it looks like he's starting all over again with Leo," said one TD. "There are positive indicators, and it's clear people want the government to get on with things, and then Fine Gael go to war with each other again -and we get killed in the crossfire," he said.

Uh-oh. Maybe it's Enda, and not Joan, who needs to spend time in the Tranquillity Spa.

Irish Independent