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Andrew Lynch: Unlike the snow and ice Noel Dempsey simply won't melt away. Pity

Let's give Noel Dempsey this much at least -- against some pretty stiff competition, he surely has the hardest neck in the Cabinet.

The Minister for Transport smirked his way through a typically outrageous performance at yesterday's Oireachtas committee meeting, at least as far as you could tell through the tan he'd picked up from his holiday in Malta during the weather crisis.

The purpose of his appearance was to explain the Government's feeble response to the Big Freeze, but as usual the chippy Meathman chose to evade all responsibility by blithely dismissing any criticism of his performance as "a lot of political hoo-hah".

Dempsey also took the opportunity to inform us that contrary to popular opinion, he is not a leprechaun.

Or, to put it another way, he has "no pot of gold" to repair the roads wrecked by the prolonged thaw, despite warnings that the damage could end up costing hundreds of millions.

Instead, he casually remarked that he was thinking of introducing a new law that would force people to clear their own pathways -- an idea that's not likely to thaw the increasingly frosty relationship between himself and the Irish public.

When pressed about the local authorities' inability to grit the roads properly, which led to huge swathes of the country grinding to a halt, Dempsey graciously admitted that driving conditions had been "somewhat difficult" and "a small number of buses" were cancelled.

However, he clearly resented all this negativity and urged the committee to "discuss what went right" during the emergency.

The (very) short answer to this is that the snow melted a little faster than the forecasters had expected, which must be an enormous comfort to the hundreds of people still nursing fractured limbs from their slips on ice-rink pavements.

This was classic Dempsey -- breathtakingly arrogant, completely out of touch and ultimately his own worst enemy.

Labour's Tommy Broughan might have exaggerated slightly when he compared to him to a government minister in Haiti, but while the scale may be utterly different, the mindset is all too familiar.

Snowman

Even now he cannot bring himself to admit that a single mistake was made, which will come as no surprise to anyone who's followed his gaffe-filled 12 years at the Cabinet table.

While Dempsey's self-serving abominable snowman routine has been the lowlight of the week so far, it has to be said that nobody in the Government has exactly covered themselves in glory since they returned from their month-long winter break.

Brian Cowen's response to the outrage over his decision to hold the banking inquiry behind closed doors was a typically gruff -- "I'm not accepting there's a problem" -- while John Gormley sounded ridiculous when he protested: "It will be held in private, not in secret."

The most creative reflection on our three weeks of sub-zero temperatures was Noel Ahern's "I think we might be over-believing this airy-fairy global warming stuff", which will certainly reassure the Greens that their coalition partners are fully in touch with their concerns.

Although Cowen has hinted of a Cabinet reshuffle some time this year, there is no indication as to whether this will be next month or the week before Christmas.

By any objective standards, Dempsey should be at the head of the queue of ministers who have long since passed their sell-by date.

Unfortunately, Noel and Brian are longstanding friends -- and as experience suggests, this Taoiseach prizes personal loyalty above virtually every other factor, including merit.

The gist of Dempsey's explanation to the Oireachtas committee yesterday was that nothing he could have done as Minister for Transport would have made any difference. If that's the level of respect he has for the job, he surely wouldn't mind if someone else was given a go.


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