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Two own goals, but don't think it's all over

IT began with a handshake at dawn and ended with a pyrrhic victory under a full moon. In between, it was punctuated by spectacular, potentially career-damaging own goals by two of the country's would-be Taoisigh. Yes, it was a funny old day in Leinster House.

When Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his nemesis Micheal Martin crossed paths in the RTE studios, the stage looked set for a victorious uprising.

Biffo looked like a man facing defeat, failing to muster any eye contact during his closely scrutinised handshake with the challenger.

Then Brian Lenihan threw him a lifeline by doing exactly the opposite of what everyone expected and throwing his weight behind the Taoiseach.

The only trouble was the Finance Minister had been talking out of both sides of his mouth for weeks and fanning the flames of a coup.

Backbencher John McGuinness immediately took umbrage, telling anyone who would listen that Lenihan "did encourage dissent, he did encourage us to look at the numbers. He did express an interest in the leadership."

It suddenly became perfectly clear. Lenihan was keeping his powder dry for a leadership battle after the election and was happy to allow the unwitting Micheal to fall on his sword in the meantime.

A gaggle of Offaly natives descended on Leinster House in an ardent display of support for Biffo. After a quick stop off in the Dail bar, they headed to the Davenport Hotel.

Yet the victory, when it was announced shortly after 9pm, prompted muted celebrations. It was all ridiculously cordial, with Micheal Martin informing us that he'd travelled with Cowen in the lift following the three-hour meeting on the fifth floor.

The room had more holes than a kitchen sieve, judging from the constant flow of gossip emanating from its walls. The 71 voting members had retired behind closed doors at 5.45pm, breaking only to vote on the Childcare Amendment Bill.

At 7pm, news surfaced that Mary Hanafin had spoken for just 20 seconds. Mute Mary had cryptically muttered her intentions to vote in accordance with her meeting with the Taoiseach last week.


That, we're reliably assured, means she attempted to pull the rug from underneath Biffo's hooves, but her behaviour was not becoming of a woman eyeing the party leadership.

Shortly after 9pm, news came through that the Taoiseach had surpassed the magic number of 36 votes, with rumours that the final tally was an utter whitewashing.

As Biffo prepared to pose for photos with his wife Mary, Micheal said his resignation had been accepted.

The news had also seeped past the gates of Leinster House, as one enthusiastic heckler roared at him: "Go back to your day job, muinteoir."

"How's your pension?" howled another.

Dejected, he slunk into the Dail bar at 11.30pm and sank into a pint of Guinness.

It can't have gone down too easy, thanks to the sight of a grinning Enda Kenny who no doubt has his eye on the Steward's House in Farmleigh.

Never fear Micheal, a week is a long time in politics and the two months prior to an election are surely a lifetime. You may have lost the battle, but this war is far from over.

Andrew Lynch, page 14