Cowen finds himself in a jam as his apostles go into hiding

BRIAN COWEN cut a lonely figure in the Dáil yesterday as neither cabinet colleagues nor coalition partners would sit with him.

The Taoiseach stood bereft of support on the front bench for the first half of leader’s questions, looking as abandoned as a Fianna Fáil election pledge to pump money into education.

Finally, Mary Hanafin burst into the chamber, clearly flustered — as if her ministerial colleagues had forced her through the doors after unwillingly drawing the short straw to bite the bullet and make the Taoiseach appear less isolated.

In the Canadian parliament it is known as “doughnutting” — when colleagues crowd around speakers to make them look better on television.

Resplendent in fire engine red, Ms Hanafin was now the jam in Biffo’s doughnut and his blushes were spared as Enda Kenny continued to strike him again and again with all the menace of a soggy meringue.

Ms Hanafin had done the decent thing and come to hold the Taoiseach’s hand, but where were the coalition partners?

The two Progressive Democrat deputies could be excused their absence, they were probably at their FÁS Restart course preparing to make a positive contribution to society when their party officially goes into receivership.

The Greens, however, had no such explanation.

The opposition was determined to paint them as the not-so jolly green pygmies of the Government and their failure to show up in the chamber merely fuelled taunts regarding the party’s political impotence and irrelevance.

Labour’s Eamon Gilmore ridiculed the Green’s claim that their education spokesman Paul Gogarty would renegotiate the classroom cuts with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Gilmore insisted this was merely an “organically modified fig leaf” to cover the junior party’s embarrassment, as a backbencher was being sent to redraw plans already approved by Green cabinet members who did not raise a murmur of public concern until forced to do so by the anti-budget backlash on the streets.

It should be noted that this is the same Mr Gogarty who embarrassingly read a letter to Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe into the Dáil record last week, demanding cuts in other spending areas in order to save school finances — only to have to later admit this could not be done without another emergency budget.

The Labour benches played on the Greens’ holier than thou image as Kathleen Lynch dubbed the incident “A letter from St Paul to the Theologians”.

From all round do-gooders only ever derided for an alleged over fondness for sandals, the Greens have suddenly turned into the Millwall of Irish politics — no one likes them.

The opposition hates them, Fianna Fáilers moan about their flip-flopping, and their core voters are fast losing faith if the latest opinion poll is to be believed.

However, the Greens claim they are still friends of the Earth.

But there were rumours sweeping Leinster House last night that even the Earth had stopped returning their telephone calls.


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