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Cowen comes out fighting as rivals go for his throat

YOU’VE got to hand it to Brian Cowen. For much of the past twoand- a-half years, our country’s leader has bumbled and mumbled his way through his job, ending up on the ropes with his coalition partners holding a knife to his throat.

He is, as the irrepressible Fine Gael deputy James Bannon put it, sitting in the departure lounge ready to be ejected from office.

Yet this morning, fresh from introducing the most draconian Budget in the history of the State, Biffo was in flying form.

Colossus

To look at him holding court in the Dail chambers, he looked every inch the man in charge.

Even his own deputies looked mildly shocked at the transformation, gazing in awe at the colossus in front of them. For any leader, attempting to look calm and controlled after yesterday’s slash-and-burn Budget would have been a tough task. But not for our Biffo.

In fairness, his virtuoso performance was practically handed to him on a plate, courtesy of an ill-timed pincer movement from Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. The Fine Gael and Labour leaders had skipped into Leinster House this morning with the taste of blood on their teeth.

The Taoiseach had dug the knife into the unemployed, widows, carers, blind people and had even raided the child benefit coffers.

The stage was set for a public flogging with Enda and Eamon were ready for the fight.

Unfortunately they forgot to coordinate their efforts, allowing Biffo to plunge in and excoriate them for their appalling lack of cohesion.

Enda got the ball rolling when he mournfully informed the Taoiseach: “Your salary yesterday was 13 times the minimum wage. Today it’s 14 times that”.

He built up an image of freezing widows and carers going around houses with no heat, and took a swipe at the increase in income tax.

The Taoiseach was in no mood to be trifled with, so he sought specifics.

Eyeballing Enda, he drawled: “Would Deputy Kenny kindly tell us how he would make the €6bn adjustment. You are now saying that the Fine Gael party would have made an adjustment of €6bn without raising income tax.

“If that was the position, the level of social welfare cuts would be far deeper than what was brought yesterday.” Warming to his theme, the Taoiseach hissed: “Your figures don’t add up. You can’t have Michael Noonan talking out of both sides of his mouth and then this man coming in and talking in five different directions the same morning.”

Poor Deputy Noonan wasn’t in the chambers for this morning’s master class, so he missed the pleasure of listening to Biffo filleting him for his less than impressive policies.

Things took a turn for the worse when Eamon Gilmore began wondering why tax exiles still haven’t been subjected to the levy introduced in last year’s Budget.

“It’s very clear that the Government and the Taoiseach hasn’t given a second thought to the issue of tax exiles. This is a Government that presides over a two-tier society,” he insisted.

Grim

This was the final straw for Biffo. Jumping to his feet, he eyed the Opposition benches disdainfully and hissed; “Here we have a prospective Government, one crowd saying no increases in income tax, another crowd saying no cuts in social welfare.”

Cocking his head towards Eamon he fumed: “He wants to double the tax,” before rounding on Enda and whingeing: “You won’t raise the tax at all.

“This would be a Government that has no cohesion, coherence or policies. The fact of the matter is you don’t have policy decisions that add up.”

Round one to Biffo. But if the grim faces on Enda and Eamon are an indication, the Budget war is far from over.


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