Friday 6 December 2019

Tension is bubbling as 'Team Jenda' hopefuls pace the corridors of power


Enda Kenny and Joan Burton pictured together earlier this year
Enda Kenny and Joan Burton pictured together earlier this year
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Lise Hand

WE'VE had a Long Goodbye from the Labour Party, what with a leadership contest that dragged on longer than a politician's summer holiday. But now we have the Long Hello.

Around mid-morning, the charged air around Leinster House deflated like a burst balloon. Inside the chamber, the Taoiseach was on his feet, assuring the Fianna Fail leader that there would be no need to amend the order of the Dail's business for the day – a statement which almost certainly put the kibosh on any grand unveiling of Team Jenda in the immediate future.

The day had begun with a frisson of expectation. A few spiffing ties were in evidence. Leo was sporting a neat haircut. There was constant chatter in corners. One Fine Gael backbench TD arrived into a senior minister's office in a state of existential angst.

"I'm f**ked," he wailed. "I haven't had a call yet". But the wiser owl was able to console him. "We're all f**ked in that case, as nobody's heard a thing," he assured the distraught wannabe.

And lo and behold, Micheal Martin has been most solicitous towards the plight of the government TDs over the past few days, with their eyes bloodshot from watching for white smoke emanating from Enda's office.

"The body language of certain ministers is getting worse by the day," he pointed out with faux-compassion during the Order of Business. "It would be useful if we had some sense of when we can expect that announcement in terms of the scheduling of the Dail".

The taoiseach smirked. He knows full well that all involved (and also those who wish to be involved) are in a state of suspension, like planes stacked in a holding-pattern over Heathrow.

"I wish to advise the House that there will be no change to the schedule of business today. If there is to be a change to the schedule for tomorrow, members will be notified of it well in advance," he declared cheerfully.

But out along the corridors, murmurs of discontent began to rise like bubbles in a pint of beer. What in the name of mercy could be taking Joan and Enda so bloody long? Sure it's only a reshuffle, not a re-writing of Bunreacht na hEireann.

"It's Joan's fault. She's dithering in there," groused one grumpy Fine Gael member.

But of course it's not that straightforward. The taoiseach and the minister may have gazed at each other for three years across a crowded Cabinet table, but now it's just the two of them – and a long wish-list.

Enda and Eamon Gilmore had a solid working relationship – two west of Ireland pragmatists who shook along together as men with a task to perform do.

However, now the taoiseach finds himself in the political equivalent of a speed-date with a new working partner. There may be no time for dinner and roses, but a certain degree of getting-to-know you is considered prudent, so one has the measure of the other for the inevitable occasions when confrontations arise.

And so there was plenty of chit-chat over cups of tea on Monday as the two began to hammer out a reshaped programme of policies for the remainder of however long this government's term may last (but sin sceal eile).

Now Enda has gone from co-starring in a 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' style of buddy movie to taking on the role of John Wayne's stubborn 'Quiet Man' to Joan's tempestuous Maureen O'Hara.

What made the long wait more unbearable for those on tenterhooks was the complete absence of leaks coming from either side about what policy or portfolio changes were happening behind closed doors.

Ironically, it was the taoiseach who let slip one policy change decided during the pow-wow when, during the order of business, he announced that the government has decided in principle that everyone over 70 years of age will be entitled to free GP care.

There were quiet smiles from the notoriously porous Labour side that the first significant leak came from the leader of Fine Gael. But the day rolled on with no burst of fanfare to herald a brave new dawn. In the meantime, over in the Seanad, the government lost a vote. No doubt the taoiseach began wishing that he couldn't reshuffle all his senators (including his troublesome own nominees) straight out the door of the Upper House.

Some folk in-the-know reckoned it will all happen today – "though Friday can't be ruled out either," warned one insider.

Well, Jenda better have their new team in place by the time Garth Brooks' Big Boat steams down the Liffey looking for a solution from "the powers-that-be".

That'll be some test for the new dream team...

Irish Independent

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