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Bean-an-tí Humphreys shows she's all heart on PUP

Senan Molony



Leinster House (Stock)

Leinster House (Stock)

Leinster House (Stock)

It was the PUP that didn't bark in the daytime. Heather Humphreys, whose mantra is usually "my officials have told me", before parroting some civil service waffle, had really big news to drop yesterday. She had an air about her, an extra gleam to her eye as she took questions in the Dáil.

She was like a formidable B&B landlady from the Hidden Heartlands who'd been rewarded with an unusual glut of eggs when "lifting the hens" in the bleak after-dawn.

Dying to tell, she was dying to tell.

But she had to sit on it with a clucking impression of business as usual until some sly fox gave her the opportunity - when she would whip out her secret object of wonder with theatrical flourish.

That's because this one was much bigger than "my officials have told me". It was nothing less than "my Taoiseach has told me to tell them". Which was that the Government had reconsidered - and was about to perform another massive U-turn.

People going on holidays to green-list countries would no longer have their PUP payment put into a kennel of quarantine, or more likely put down.

Thus the Hidden Heartlands bean-an-tí readied herself to show off the fact that, far from being callous and uncaring, she had a hidden heart herself.

Opposition TDs eyed her warily, wondering why a minister who had been made into mincemeat all week over PUP cuts at the airports wasn't looking more… well, like a whipped cur. She instead had a distinct spring in her step. It was odd. But even more odd was Sinn Féin not continuing the war - instead asking, in a very ordinary way, about the self-employed. That from new TD Claire Kerrane of Roscommon-Galway.

Oh well, Seán Sherlock of Labour will surely tee me up, thought Heather. But no, he had exhausted himself from all his early-morning and late-night previous PUP passion.

Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats, who is developing nicely as a lean and hungry Rottweiler, would surely savage her, about the ankles at least. But no, he too sounded exhausted and could barely raise a growl about poverty.

Who would draw from her the staggering news? And so shambled into view Éamon Ó Cuív, a grizzled old warrior. But no luck.

With a heavy sigh, Heather regurgitated the wisest of observations of her highest officials, her allotted time for answering questions petering out with no one having popped the PUP question.

It was as if the band was beginning the last of the slow sets in a Monaghan dancehall and none of the men had left the mineral bar.

Finally she took it upon herself. "Would the acting chairman mind if I made a short statement to the House on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment?" she trilled.

John Lahart answered simply: "Okay." Not exactly an overly genteel response, but she glided anyway into the middle of the metaphorical floor.

And sang her song of abject surrender.

Irish Independent