The high drama and low farce of our leaders in 2015

After another year of high drama and lower farce, Shaun Connolly looks back at the heroes and villains of the past 12 months in Irish politics

The high drama and low farce of our leaders in 2015

ENDA’S GAY DAY

Enda Kenny wholeheartedly led his country and party to a moment of history when Ireland became the first nation in the world to endorse marriage equality by popular vote in May.

Overcoming his own initial deep misgivings to show the ability to recognise and help shape inevitable societal change, while taking the majority of his conservative base with him, Mr Kenny threw himself so enthusiastically into the cause that, at the final press conference of the campaign, the Irish Examiner enquired whether he felt he was in danger of becoming a gay icon.

As the rest of the Cabinet burst out laughing, the Taoiseach feared he was being lured into some kind of trap and insisted, stoney-faced: “I have no intention of becoming a gay icon.”

Down with that sort of thing.

ENDA’S PAY DAY

It was a very different side to the Taosieach on display when he was accused of arrogance regarding his €185,000 salary.

When the Irish Examiner enquired at the launch of the Low Pay Unit whether Mr Kenny thought he was worth the €3,500 a week taxpayers give him, the tetchy Taoiseach replied: “Very much so,” and later saying: “We’ve cut everything to the bone.”

At least lone parents would agree with the latter comment as benefit changes pushed through by Joan Burton saw thousands of them worse off by up to €90 a week in July.

PINK AND PERKY

One of the worst-kept secrets in Irish politics emerged in January when Health Minister Leo Varadkar told Miriam O’Callaghan: “I’m a gay man, it’s not a secret.”

The move helped humanise a rather austere political persona and Mr Varadkar’s popularity soared.

VANITY POLITICS

Heat-seeking human publicity missile, and wannabe D4 Evita, Lucinda Creighton, decided against calling the party she created in her own image the Lucindanistas, instead opting for the meaningless Renua.

Meanwhile, Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy, and Stephen Donnelly could not even agree on who would be leader of the Social Democrats, and so opted for the very social, and very unworkable, option of all being leader at once.

(DON’T) PHONE A FRIEND, MICHELLE

Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin used her taxpayer-funded Leinster House phone to communicate with her friend in Kenya.

But, of course, those €2,000 worth of calls were not personal; they all related to her job as a TD and centred on important things such as a possible defamation action against a newspaper article regarding her friendship with Danson Kole.

So, Michelle, why did you stump up the cash for the calls after being rumbled and denying any wrong-doing?

And why did the calls start with a whopping 76-minute chat, six months before the article appeared?

WHO’S A PRETTY BOY THEN?

Disgraced former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry was all about smashing the glass ceiling for women — well, for the pretty ones, anyway.

That’s the only conclusion to take from the chummy tone of the note from Lowry that Enda Kenny carelessly left on Dáil benches and which advocated a reappointment to a State board because the woman concerned was “not bad looking either.”

WASTING POLICE TIME

Europe Minister Dara Murphy seemed to believe the gardaí are a Government taxi service when he decided to call the cops when he broke down in rural Cork at 3am and then to sit back in comfort while two on-duty officers drove him all the way to Dublin Airport to catch a flight to Brussels.

Scrambling for an excuse — any excuse — Mr Murphy glibly told us that, on his return to Ireland, he spoke to Garda top brass, and everything was just dandy because there was no extra cost to the force, as the officers were on duty at the time.

WHIPLASH SMILE

Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe thought he was being ultra loyal when he told the Irish Examiner that Mr Kenny would not only win the looming election, but also the one in 2021 as well.

The prospect of Endless Enda so terrified the nation that Mr Kenny had to effectively hand in his post-dated resignation letter to the electorate within days.

Mr Kenny publicly clings to the charming little fantasy that he can hang on right up until just before the election after the next election.

In reality, he has two years at the top left at most, and will probably be gone well before then.

CATHERINE THE GRATE ON DENIS

The court action of billionaire tycoon Denis O’Brien prevented much of what defiantly Independent TD Catherine Murphy said about him under Dáil privilege being reported for four days in May.

When the issue was finally resolved in the High Court, counsel for the billionaire tycoon insisted it had never been Mr O’Brien’s intention to restrict what deputies can say in the Dáil, and that he believed “it is only right” that the media reports them.

This was confusing, as the only thing preventing most of the mainstream media relaying Ms Murphy’s comments was the legal threats from Mr O’Brien.

“A spectacular climbdown,” remarked counsel for RTÉ as he noted the abrupt change of heart, branding it a bit “rich”.

Mr O’Brien is, of course, more than a bit rich, he’s absolutely loaded.

Which is why his alleged rates of interest with nationalised former Anglo bank IBRC rates such interest with Ms Murphy.

The Kildare North TD is no stunt merchant or grand-stander, and has a well-won reputation for doggedness, diligence, and responsibility. To hear her demonised by Mr O’Brien and his mouthpieces as some one who “peddles lies” on the back of stolen documents just did not fit with the high regard she is held in across the political spectrum.

ENDA’S BOOTY CALL

Showing that twin grasp of macro-economics and feminism he is famous for, Enda Kenny announced a key indicator of growth would be your ability to buy boots for your girlfriend.

At one of the many relaunches of the relaunch of the last Government relaunch that littered 2015, Mr Kenny declared that jobs were important because: “That means getting on the employment ladder, being able to buy the car, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, buy the boots, or whatever.

"Live a life, as it were.”

Yes, live life as it were in the 1950s, when women knew their place, Mr Kenny presumably meant.

TEARS OF A CLOWN

Would-be Labour tough guy Alan Kelly was left crying his eyes out by the taunts of colleagues who accused him of leaking damaging private polls showing the party might barely make double figures at the next election.

Kelly, who has an ego the size of his native Tipperary, mostly denied the accusations of using the data (he just so happens to be election strategy chief) to better place himself to be leader after the inevitable rout.

But what will be left to lead after the wheeze of handing out a €100 bribe for merely registering with Irish Water despite having no intention of paying your bill only added to Labour’s unpopularity?

FF-ING DESPERATE

Fianna Fáil’s director of election, Billy Kelleher, raised eyebrows when he effectively said a vote for the party was a vote for five more years in opposition as it was unlikely to do better than 35-40 seats and would not cut a deal with anyone.

So the party slogan will presumably be: ‘Vote FF: We’ll either be crying or lying after the election.’

Perhaps the whole ridiculous situation was unintentionally summed up best by Fianna Fáil frontbencher Robert Troy, who, commenting on matters unknown, was picked up by the Dáil microphones, sighing: “Fucking desperate.”

MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW

He may have been the Mad Dog of the Middle East, but even Colonel Gaddafi had enough sense to steer clear of Ireland when it was going down the tubes in late 2010.

That is when the National Treasury Management Agency was dispatched to Tripoli to plead with the murderous despot to take a 24% stake in the Bank of Ireland for €1.4bn.

But after the meeting with Irish officials, Gaddafi insisted he did not feel “comfortable” with what was happening in Ireland, and thus politely declined to fill the begging bowl in front of him.

It was one of the few new facts to emerge from a banking inquiry which sank under the weight of its own anti-climax and ended in impotent in-fighting.

A GAME OF JOAN’S

Joan Burton’s Thursday’s turn at Leaders Questions was often surreal, but one or the more unusual moments came when she, after telling the FF front bench to “shut up”, rounded on Barry Cowen with the unusual query: “Are you just a baby, or acting like a baby?”

TROLLEY FOLLY

The Government was appalled at the news that a 91-year-old man with Parkinson’s spent 27 hours on a trolley in Tallaght Hospital — appalled that the news got out, that is, and a witch hunt was launched to find the whistleblower.

One doctor described the treatment of the patient as an act of “torture”.

The sick reality is that, 10 years after Enda Kenny pledged he would end the scandal of patients on trolleys, at least 30 patients a day are waiting 24-hours or more in grim conditions.

ENDA THE TRUTH BENDER

Enda’s nose again grew to the proportions of Geppetto’s puppet Pinocchio when he was caught out in yet another truth-twisting flight of fancy.

Showing off to Angela Merkel and Europe’s other big guns, Mr Kenny talked tough about nearly having to send in the army to wave their machine guns around the ATMs to keep order on taking power after a chat with Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan.

“The governor of the Central Bank in Ireland said to me: ‘It looks like this weekend ... you’ll have to put army around the banks and around the ATM machines and introduce capital controls like they had in Cyprus’. So we’ve pulled back from that brink,” Enda trilled.

Only problem is, it never happened.

BUSTED

Michael Noonan brushed aside the warning of the financial watchdogs set up to prevent another boom-bust cycle when they dared criticise his vote-grabbing —sorry, principled and prudent — budget.

After the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (and the ESRI) expressed deep concern about its expansionary financial package. Mr Noonan gave a particularly laconic and dismissive response as he sniffed that: “An expansionary budget is a matter of opinion.”

Well, quite, but it is the opinion of the experts who were put in place to warn politicians like you against committing calamitous financial mistakes to court temporary electoral popularity, Michael.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN

Every member of the Cabinet insisted it was “unacceptable” that 1,500 children are homeless in Dublin, without seemingly having the self-awareness to realise they are the very ones accepting it.

With charities warning it is only a matter of time before a child dies to the conditions they are forced to live in, many wondered, do we really have to wait for a fire in a grotty B&B before this Government takes the emergency action needed?

Have they learned nothing from the negligence of slashing the Traveller housing budget by 90%?

UP THE POLL

The Dáil’s dysfunctional couple descended into Jilted Joan and Indecisive Enda during October as the Taoiseach infuriated the Tánaiste by openly flirting with an early election.

Ms Burton was shown in no uncertain terms that beggars can’t be choosers as Mr Kenny humiliated her by leaving the Labour leader to effectively beg him in public not to choose a snap November poll over her.

After insisting he would go full term for the previous four years, Enda suddenly decided to land Fine Gael in one of those totally avoidable, completely predictable, PR disasters he loves so much by suddenly refusing to rule out an early date with the electorate.

NORDY NAMA DRAMA

Independent TD Mick Wallace caused shock waves with Dail claims in July that £7m paid in fees from the buyer of €1.2bn worth of Nama assets in Northern Ireland Cerberus was diverted to an account in the Isle of Man, “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party”.

A police investigation is under way.

Nama insists it has done nothing improper.

Retiring Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson denied that the payment was connected to him or his family.

MAY THE FARCE BE WITH YOU

Forget The Force Awakens, Fine Gael are pushing Enda vs Chaos as the spring blockbuster they hope to clean up with.

The Blueshirt campaign script-writers think you’ll buy them painting mild-mannered man of steel Captain Kenny as the only thing standing between Ireland and the anarchy of the Shifty Shinners, Loathsome Lefties, and Dizzy Independents — a bit like Mad Max, but if he wore lycra and went around on a pedal bike.

Unfortunately for the party strategists, voters view the choice more like Alien vs Predator, as they hope that neither one really wins. It is not the most inspirational choice for weary voters: “Well, Predator represents the change option, but then Alien has a more nuanced stance on childcare... ”

THE WRONG TRACK

Beginning the longest phoney campaign in electoral history, Enda lured the press to Heuston in early October to unveil the much vaunted, entirely underwhelming, and largely reannounced grand €27bn capital investment plan so that we could hear the tannoy announce: “The political bribe now arriving on platform one is the desperation express calling at all stops to polling day.”

TIME, GENTLEMEN, PLEASE

And employees of Far East clothing sweat shops think they have it bad?

TDs were so exhausted after three days back from their two-month summer holidays in September that they immediately went on a four-day weekend to recover.

We pay them €1,673 a week for this level of effort.

PHIL FECKS IT UP — AGAIN

Sticking it to his Labour successor while showing that real-world self-awareness which made Irish Water the much-loved triumph that it is, Phil Hogan said of the utility: “Well, firstly, I don’t agree it was a mess, and, secondly, I introduced what was required under the Troika, and you’ll have to ask the Minister for the Environment, Mr Kelly, for the rest.”

Well, firstly, it is a total mess, and, secondly, it is a bit late to start hiding behind the Troika, when water-taxing has been official Fine Gael policy since 2009.

YEAR ZERO

After more than a quarter of a century in frontline politics, Joan Burton made history — by leading Labour to a rating of zero in an opinion poll.

A survey of farmers found that not a single one of them would trust Joan’s lot with their first preference.

CON JOB

The Dáil’s return in September was dominated by confidence tricksters as the opposition moved a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach over the conclusions of the Fennelly inquiry into the curiously sudden departure of then garda commissioner Martin Callinan in 2014.

FF and Sinn Féin insisted Mr Kenny fired Callinan.

Kenny insisted that, after ordering the secretary general of the Department of Justice to the top cop’s house under cover of darkness to express the Taoiseach’s displeasure and inability to declare confidence in him, he was shocked by a resignation within hours.

The Fennelly probe into the affair decided the visit was the “immediate catalyst” for Callinan’s abrupt departure.

Kenny preferred to dwell on the report’s finding that the “resignation” was Callinan’s decision.

But then, people with (metaphorical) guns to their heads often make interesting decisions.

PAPER TIGER

And what of the lack of written evidence kept of the various meetings the Taoiseach had regarding the Callinan situation?

This is most curious as, when Kenny falsely accused the previous government of shredding documents relating to the bank guarantee, he assured us he was a most meticulous chronicler of events.

“If the Taoiseach of the day meets a group from a constituency, you can be sure that whatever it is about notes will be taken and be there for posterity,” he said.

So Kenny keeps notes from random constituency groups for ever, but meetings with the attorney general, senior civil servants, and ministers about key national events — not so much. Hmmm...

TRUTH OR SCARE?

Gerry ‘Army Council? What Army Council?’ Adams got very sniffy when an RTÉ poll found that 89% of voters believe he is lying when he claims he has never been in the IRA.

That the majority of people believe Mr Adams is not telling the truth about his involvement with the IRA is hardly surprising, but that 45% of people say that this does not matter — as opposed to 47% who think it does matter — throws up many more questions about the value of truth to the Irish electorate.

TWO MANY PINTS?

Enda was out meeting his imaginary friends down the local again as the number of walk-on bit players who prop up his unpopular political agenda without ever having to come forward reached epic proportions.

Defending the April Fool’s Day release of water tax bills, Mr Kenny told the Dáil: “The man who stopped me with the two pints in his hand last week was shouting about the cost of water that he couldn’t pay for. And I said to him, what he was holding in his hands would pay for water for him — because I know him — for nearly 10 weeks.”

The fact he used the very same anecdote in February brought more suspicion. Either this nameless anti-water-charge person has a serious drink problem, or Mr Kenny has a serious memory problem.

REVENGE SCORN

At Halloween, Eamon Gilmore emerged from the political coffin Joan Burton stuffed him into to haunt her with his memoirs, painting her ambition in an unflattering light.

While there is little doubt that Joan does deserve being on the receiving end of his righteous anger, it would have served his more loyal colleagues better if he had managed to postpone the feud frenzy until the polling stations at least had closed.

SITE FOR SORE EYES

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams helpfully recapped the controversy over the sale of Siteserv to a company controlled by tycoon Denis O’Brien in the Dáil, stating: “We know Siteserv was sold off for €45m at a loss to the taxpayer of €105m.

We also know that the same legal firm acted for both the purchaser and the seller, and that the shareholders and the director got a backhander of €5m.

“We also know the bid from Denis O’Brien’s company was not the highest one, and that the Department of Finance was concerned about all these matters and the minister was briefed in detail on them.”

After the sale, Siteserv won a lucrative contract with Irish Water.

After huge resistance, the Government was forced into an independent inquiry into the sale.

NOT THE ABLEIST

Paul Murphy, TD, proved that while he may be anti-austerity, he is not anti-midget as he condemned the use of the term by his fellow water-protestors to describe the president — even though he defended their right to politicise the head of State.

You see, Mr Murphy thinks the term ‘midget’ is “ableist”, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “discriminating in favour of the able-bodied”.

DON’T BANK ON IT

Ex-Anglo director Fintan Drury summed up the situation best when he insisted at the banking inquiry that Brian Cowen attended a dinner at Anglo HQ after its share plunge in 2008, and then had a lovely golf outing to Druids Glen with the Anglo boys when Taoiseach three months later, but the subject of Anglo, or indeed banking, was never even whispered.

“I have friends who find it lacking in credibility,” Mr Drury told the Oireachtas probe.

OSCILLATE WILDLY

A human rainbow of hope burst over Ireland as centuries of oppression finally gave way to the sunshine of equality with one wave of the ballot box pencil.

As the results flooded through, the streets around Dublin Castle surged with energy and colour as strangers hugged each other and declared: “We’re equal.”

Couples draped in the rainbow flag thronged the pavements as cars sounded their horns in support, and jubilant lovers carried placards proclaiming: “Thank You: You’re All Invited To The Wedding” as a carnival atmosphere gripped the city centre.

With the result never in doubt, the throngs at Dublin Castle took an exuberant twist on the default chant of any victorious Irish crowd, replacing the strains of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” with “We’re gay! We’re gay! We’re gay!” as the love Oscar Wilde once said dared not speak its name roared out for all to hear.

SHE SAID/HE SAID

Ironically, given that it is a defiantly same-sex Dáil party (21 men: zero women), Fianna Fáil got into an awful state over its limp support for marriage equality.

Half the female parliamentary party — i.e. Senator Averil Power — walked out over Micheal Martin’s “cowardice” in failing to show leadership over the most talked-about political event of the year.

In a dramatic departure from his nice-guy image, Martin branded Power “nasty and vindictive”.

INVISIBLE WOMEN

Instead of being congratulated for facing reality and calling for the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the mother and the unborn, to be repealed, Children’s Minister James Reilly was carpeted by Enda Kenny, who does not want termination restrictions eased on his watch.

After keeping the issue out of the last citizens convention, the Taoiseach said it should be looked at by a new one, and then, maybe, FG TDs will get a free Dáil vote on the outcome.

Meanwhile, in the real world, some 6,000 Irish women in crisis pregnancy situations made the journey to clinics in England and The Netherlands for 6,000 individual reasons.

TDs ON TRIAL

Independent and inseparable deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were sent to different parts of Limerick Jail for multiple minutes for non-payment of fines relating to an invasion of Shannon Airport to protest its alleged militarisation.

Meanwhile, Paul Murphy faces trial for false imprisonment of Joan Burton and her political advisor Karen O’Connell.

RUMOUR AND INNUENDO

After a newspaper reported that a former minister was being investigated about historic allegations of child abuse, Pat Carey issued a statement denying any wrongdoing, but stated that because his name had been speculated upon, he would stand down as Fianna Fáil’s director of elections.

“Mr Carey is deeply upset to be contacted by various journalists on this matter when he has no knowledge of the actual complaints allegedly made.

"He absolutely and unconditionally denies any impropriety in this matter or in his 30 years experience as a teacher; as a community worker and in his public life.

"He was distraught to first learn of these matters on the front page of a national newspaper,” the statement said.

CLAP TRAP

Unbelievably, clever councillor Hugh McElvaney exposed the evils of RTÉs investigative journalism by asking an undercover reporter for €10k to help her with a windfarm project in order to make the exposure show “sexy”.

“I knew it was RTÉ, they’ve trapped me before, and I knew that there was somebody acting the fool with me. So I lured them into their own trap, there’s no problem,” Councillor Sexy, sorry, Councillor McElvaney “explained”.

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