BRIAN Cowen tried to play down the infection as just a touch of whine flu because the last thing he needs is it exploding into an epidemic of dissent, threatening his Government’s already frail health.
The outbreak centred on newly demoted backbencher John McGuinness so the Taoiseach wanted him quarantined, just to be on the safe side, even offering the ex-minister some sour grapes to help him over the hump.
Mr McGuinness had already expressed great unhappiness about his treatment at the hands of nurse Mary Coughlan, who he said was leaving small businessmen in her care to bleed to death. He then diagnosed senior staff at the Fianna Fáil Hospice for the Irish economy as themselves suffering from “paralysis”.
It wasn’t a happy picture, especially as the whistle blower was an insider at the institution until last week.
Fears of the rebel virus spreading out of control badly hit travel plans as ministers were rushed back to Leinster House to firm up the Government’s majority as it moved to make life harder for the weakest in society, slashing the dole in half for the under 20s.
Obviously this generation of malingerers needs a firm hand and rather than offer them any kind of future in their own country, we must force them to leave by cutting their already meagre allowances even further.
The Government’s life support machine flickered dangerously when legislation to snatch back the Christmas bonus from welfare families passed by just three votes, and Mr Cowen was not going to let anyone get away with any of that kind of conscience nonsense again.
He certainly did not need to worry about that sort of thing from Brian Lenihan, who has proved himself to be the meanest surgeon in Europe, cutting back to the bone again and again, then boasting about it with sadistic glee to his EU chums.
“The steps taken have impressed our partners in Europe, who are amazed at our capacity to take pain,” he chortled gleefully.
But Mr McGuinness didn’t join in the laughter, he proved a very impatient patient and wasted little time in trying to shame Nurse Coughlan through media exposures of her laxness on duty.
This led to an unseemly spat where they both accused the other of twisting the truth, with Ms Coughlan denying the former junior minister told her she was not up to her day job as Employment Minister.
Mr McGuinness mused, pointedly, that maybe she didn’t hear him, just like she hadn’t heard the pleas of thousands of businesses going to the wall in the past year.
But perhaps, Ms Coughlan just misheard him, and thinking he’d called her the Minister for Mass Unemployment, she took it as a compliment for nobody else in the history of the State has deserved such a title as much as she does.
The ministers recalled from foreign fields were holding a midnight vigil as the Irish economy drifted between life and death and the social welfare ram-raid vote was suitably held at the witching hour.
Why, even Mr Boom himself, Bertie Ahern, was dragged into the Dáil to pump up the numbers for his successor, Mr Bust.
As Mr Cowen waits nervously to see if the infection will fizzle out, or prove a real risk to the life of his Government, ministers are being kept under close watch on the Oireachtas isolation ward to stop them forming dangerous cluster cells which may endanger Mr Cowen’s future survival if they decide he needs harsh medicine from the Cabinet.
Brian must fear much more than whine flu as the deep sense of ill health continues to eat away at the heart of his Government’s body politic.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved