He was a shadowy figure. The Taoiseach had never met him before, although they had done some background checks for him when he was appointing the Cabinet. And of course, when it became clear that the Americans were listening in to his phone calls G2 had offered some advice about how to keep his conversations secret. Not that that was particularly helpful. Don’t use the phone, don’t send an email, don’t text anyone, and whatever you do, don’t talk to anyone about anything sensitive.
How was a Taoiseach supposed to operate with strictures like that? He had learned, in the interests of national security, to keep all his answers as short and non-committal as possible, and of course he decided to avoid all public debates on important national subjects. Suppose the Americans were listening?
Then of course, G2 had advised that the Americans were the least of his troubles. The British, the French and the Germans were all listening too, according to the intelligence reports. There was a terrible moment when the Taoiseach had given out yards about the banks to his family over lunch one Sunday — at home mind you, when you’d think no one would be listening — and he had got a note about it from your man Trichet a couple of days later. It had to have been the French secret service that had got on to him.
But over the last few months, things had got so much worse. The Taoiseach, as everyone knew, wasn’t a man given to conspiracy theories. But he had served under different leaders of his own party in the past, some of whom had served as Taoiseach. Garret Fitzgerald, for instance. Brilliant, no one could deny that. And a real charmer, who could do nothing wrong for a long time. And then, when he finally became Taoiseach, he could do nothing right. Garret the Good had turned into Garret the Messer.
And now, the Taoiseach reflected, it’s happening to me. That’s why he had called in G2, and why he was now sitting in the basement of Government Buildings — a small dark room, but apparently the only room in the entire building that they could make entirely secure from eavesdroppers of all kinds. G2 was a small operation. Nominally attached to the army, G2 had a tiny budget, that they spent mostly on informers. But they had men and women everywhere. Although the Taoiseach had never asked (he knew better than that), he believed that G2 routinely shared information with MI5 and the CIA, in order to try to keep tabs on what they knew about Ireland.
“There’s a pattern here, Taoiseach,” the head of G2 said. “There’s no doubt whatsoever that someone is trying to make you look bad. We haven’t figured out what their motivation is, and until we do that we won’t be able to find the culprit. But …”
The Taoiseach interrupted him before he could finish his thought. “I knew it couldn’t be us,” he said.
He’d had that same sinking feeling for weeks now — the feeling that the Government couldn’t do anything right. It had started over the referendum on the Senate. All the advice was the same, and it was backed up by political intelligence and market research. It’s in the bag. All you have to do is set the date, and your name will go down in history as a reformer.
But it had all gone horribly wrong. And then, suddenly, things started to go wrong all over the place. The health budget, for instance. How in the name of God had they come up with a figure like 666 as the total of cutbacks necessary? It was bad enough that Reilly seemed to believe he had it all under control, but the entire set of figures had unravelled on budget day, when it was too late to do anything about it. If they had even rounded the figure, down to 650, it wouldn’t have made quite as much a joke of them.
And then the water went off. All over Dublin, night after night. And they couldn’t even figure out what was causing it. The first explanation they got was that the wrong kind of rain had fallen (mother of divine, the Taoiseach thought when he heard that), then there was something about the mix of chemicals in the treatment plant. And to cap it all, nearly a million people all over Ireland get letters from the Revenue, on a Monday morning, looking for payment of next year’s property tax. By Friday, for God’s sake! Again, all sorts of crazy explanations offered — apparently, data protection rules mean the Revenue aren’t allowed keep people’s credit card details on file. The Taoiseach had actually demanded that the explanation be repeated to him slowly. The. Revenue. Aren’t. Allowed. To. Keep. Relevant. Financial. Information. About. Taxpayers. On. File.
It was all adding up to one thing. Here he was, the head of a government that had saved the country from ruin. They were about to win Ireland’s sovereignty back after a titanic struggle. There were signs that the economy as beginning to grow again, when all the nay-sayers had said there would never be any recovery.
And suddenly, when things should be starting to look up, the Government was rapidly beginning to look like a shower of bumblers. The word on the street was that they couldn’t organise anything properly. Imagine trying to get paid a local property tax in advance, at exactly the same time as you discover you can’t even guarantee the most basic local service of all, the water in people’s taps.
“Yes Taoiseach,” the head of G2 continued. “It’s the oldest trick in the book. When you can’t bring down a government any other way, you make them look stupid. If people think you’re a bit of a joke, they’re never going to vote for you. However ...”
THERE it was again. The Taoiseach knew, of course, that there was only one circumstance in which G2 could help him to get to the bottom of this. That’s why he had interrupted him earlier. There was a question he had to ask, and he knew that the wrong answer would leave him with nowhere to turn. “Is it the Americans?” the Taoiseach asked. “They’ve been sore ever since I stole Obama’s speech that time.”
“I’m afraid not,” the head of G2 told him. “We know there’s interference going on, and it’s really subtle and clever. It’s aimed at undermining you by making you seem incompetent — and you’re not the first Irish government to whom that has happened. But whatever it is, there’s no foreign government involved.”
And so the Taoiseach was on his own. Without evidence of foreign involvement, G2 couldn’t be involved in the search for a mole. But there had to be a mole. The Taoiseach was absolutely convinced of that. After all, this series of things, all designed to make his government look incompetent, couldn’t possibly be the result of their own inefficiency. There was simply no chance of that.