Offence Minister shoots himself in the foot – again

Ladies of the night, keystone cops and political Pinocchios all featured in the swirl of intrigue as Willie O’Dea battled for his Cabinet life.

The Defence Minister decided the best survival tactic was to become the Offence Minister, and so went out of his way to offend as many as he could in the process.

All three main party leaders detonated at least one devastatingly explosive charge in their war of words, but the only target Mr O’Dea succeeded in hitting was his own foot – again and again.

Brian Cowen deployed world weary disdain, declaring Fine Gael was content to “take the low road to high office”.

Enda Kenny ridiculed the Taoiseach’s claim Mr O’Dea had not broken the ministerial code by stating that the architects of said code had not thought it necessary to include strictures like: “Don’t lie to the High Court.”

And Labour’s Eamon Gilmore went straight for the jugular, branding the Defence Minister a man who “willfully commits perjury”.

At one point it seemed everyone was accusing everyone else of lying, so let’s go back to the beginning.

It all started on that fateful day when Mr O’Dea swore a High Court affidavit denying using an interview with a journalist to implicate a political rival in the running of a Limerick brothel – only to admit his submission was untrue when a tape recording of the conversation later turned up. An honest mistake, Mr O’Dea pleads. Perjury says the opposition.

When probed in the Dáil as to why he had taken such allegations to a journalist and not the Gardaí, Mr O’Dea moved to blame the police: “They reported it to me,” he declared before having to later accuse them of incompetence with: “The information was wrong.”

No one was in the mood for holding back as Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes dubbed Mr O’Dea a “political Pinocchio” before Labour’s Joan Burton read out the transcripts from the tape, including Mr O’Dea concerns about “ladies of the night” to the delight of those listening.

She waspishly summed up the scenario as: “Limerick’s own Belle de Jour – and Willie is very familiar with it all.”

Green Minister Eamon Ryan would clearly rather have been anywhere else – he was 15 minutes late for the confidence debate and it appeared Fianna Fáil chief whip Pat Carey had been sent to scour Leinster House to make sure he showed up in time.

When he finally did so, the Energy Minister’s defence of Mr O’Dea was as limp in delivery as it was in substance, the phrase “As I understand it...” preceding almost every tepid sentence. Never had the cutting joke about his party being the caterpillars of Irish politics – because they are green and spineless – rang so true.

Defend the guy or condemn the guy, but do it with conviction whichever you choose.

The growling, bad-humoured confidence motion sealed a day of seething rhetoric and tension in the chamber which had erupted early on when Martin Cullen railed against Mr Gilmore’s accusations he had done nothing to save Waterford Glass as the spat saw the Tourism Minister lunging forward repeatedly in his seat – giving the impression of an agitated budgie trying desperately to gain flight.

The incident got so unseemly it was even left to Mr O’Dea to put a restraining hand on his fellow minister to try and stop the spectacle. All the while the opposition benches revelled in the sight of Mr Cullen losing it: “The minister is possessed!” and “Out! Out! Out!” being some of the kinder things shouted at him.

Mr Gilmore was so thrown by the ferocity of the exchange he even forget to ask his Leader’s Question, but the Taoiseach knows the lines by now and launched into an auto-pilot defence of why the Government did so little to save 500 jobs at Dublin Airport.

Mr Cowen seemed to think it would lead to all sorts of trouble such as injunctions and the like if Aer Lingus was asked to relinquish the now notorious Hangar 6 to Ryanair and move to more modest surroundings.

Now, as the only parties involved would be the DAA and Aer Lingus – one wholly controlled by the Government, the other controlled jointly by the Government and Ryanair – where exactly would an injunction come from? Given the Tánaiste’s woeful grip on her brief there is always the possibility she might injunct herself, but surely we could guard against this unhappy event by getting one of the less incompetent ministers to babysit her and make sure she does not bring legal proceedings against herself?

But that is all far too rational for a Taoiseach and Tánaiste intent on clinging to the anti-Obama mantra of “No, we can’t!”

They would not lift a finger to save 500 expert jobs, but they moved Heaven and Earth to save Willie’s job.

But as the Defence Minister sat down after his bombastic denial of any wrongdoing, not one pair of hands on his own side closed in applause.

Silence.

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