Did you hear the one about the Taoiseach and the Army?
Enda Kenny has bent the truth far too often to deserve the benefit of the doubt this time round, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
There was uproar during filming of BBC talent show The Voice last week when new judge Boy George sensationally claimed that he had once slept with the American recording artist Prince.
The audience went wild. His co-stars immediately begged for more details. The Culture Club singer later claimed, disappointingly, that it was just a joke, only to discover it's not so easy to put out a fire once it's roaring away.
Taking his cue from Enda Kenny, who's spent the week backtracking over his claim that the Irish Government had been preparing to deploy the Army at ATM machines in the event of financial meltdown in 2011, what Boy George should have said is that there was "no specific de-briefing", as it were, between the musical pair on the night in question, but casual sexual encounters do frequently occur in celebrity circles so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that this one might have happened too.
That's basically been the approach adopted to snuff out the fuse lit by the Taoiseach - which is to say that there was a task force set up to coordinate action in the event of further crises; that discussions did include the possibility of drafting in the Army in an emergency; but that, no, there was no "specific" briefing from Patrick Honohan on the issue.
Naming the governor of the Central Bank as a player in this scenario seems to have been what did it for Enda, because it was inevitable that Honohan would be asked to confirm or deny such a dramatic account, and that the story would unravel if he didn't back up Enda. Instead of including precise claims that could be what the Taoiseach should have said, if he had to say anything, is that there were some murmurs going around at the time of drafting in the Army, but that he couldn't go into details because it was all hush hush.
People might have bought that version, thereby having the desired effect of making Enda look like a man who saved the country from anarchy. Instead, he had to ruin it by going that little bit too far.
The real puzzle is why it's causing a fuss now. The Taoiseach has said exactly the same thing before, without challenge, and last year Minister Simon Coveney told Newstalk: "The Taoiseach was getting briefed by the Central Bank that he needed to have a fall-back position whereby the Army might be needed to surround banks to protect them because we could literally run out of money." If it never happened, then the claim was just as false last year as it is now.
So why the outcry last week? The media, having got bored with the feel-good narrative which the Government has been pushing since the Budget, saw a chance to put the Taoiseach on the back foot, asking, reasonably enough, why none of this came up during the Banking Inquiry.
One answer is surely because of where and when the Taoiseach said what he said. The international media doesn't tend to take much interest in FG fundraisers, but they were at the conference of the European People's Party in Madrid where Enda spoke.
As with any embarrassing family relation, it's one thing when they make a spectacle of themselves at home behind closed doors, quite another when they do it in public in front of the neighbours.
The Taoiseach only has himself to blame. He's flown by the seat of his pants so often that, even when he is telling the truth, most people would now probably be inclined not to believe him. Once a man gets a reputation for being "economical with the actualité", it tends to stick.
Enda has plenty of previous on that score. There was the time he claimed to have met a water charges protester with two pints in his hands, with the Taoiseach allegedly informing him that the cost of his drink would easily cover a few weeks' supply of water. Take that, protester.
Then there was the time when, discussing homelessness, the Taoiseach claimed to have met a man temporarily sleeping rough in Dublin after a row with his wife, presumably implying that the homeless were mainly chaps with houses who chose not to live in them because the missus was being a touch temperamental.
Most incredibly of all, the Taoiseach once spoke about grateful workers contacting his office in amazement at the extra money in their pay packets following a Budget tax break, as if the first thing you'd do on discovering you had a few more quid than expected would be to call the Taoiseach for clarification.
A source subsequently conceded it was just a "turn of phrase", which presumably is itself a turn of phrase that really means "plucking mad stuff off the top of his head".
The Taoiseach's hardly alone in embellishing his anecdotes for effect. Politicians always have a ready-made store of convenient tall tales involving anonymous members of the public saying things that chime perfectly with whatever message said politician is trying to promote.
What's significant is that this happened again whilst he was abroad. Enda Kenny should never be allowed to leave the country, because he invariably says something mortifying. It's a pattern that goes right back to his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he said the Irish "went mad with borrowing".
It was astonishing disloyalty to a people driven to the verge of despair, not only by the economic collapse, but also at being made to foot the lion's share of the bill for fixing it, purely because we didn't have the political muscle to pass our debts off onto weaker nations, as the Germans did.
When he goes away from home, Enda Kenny is the political equivalent of a married man who takes off his wedding ring when heading off on business trips so that he can hit the bars at night like a carefree bachelor. Philanderers tend to be caught when wifey checks their text messages later. Enda gets exposed in his political inconstancy because he does it in full view of the watching media.
That's the thing. Does the Taoiseach not realise that his words are being reported? That there are other people in the room when he's speaking? He seems so desperate on such occasions to hang tough with Europe's bully boys that he forgets there are people back home not nearly so impressed with these masters of our universe. He should be pitching his message to us, not to them.