Kenny pours petrol, not water, to turn tide of public opinion

Baying mobs, bomb threats, and allegations of attempts to kidnap the Tánaiste dominated the Dáil.

As the Government struggled to regain control of the political agenda following weeks of dither and drift over its chaotic bid to introduce water charges, Taoiseach Enda Kenny went on the offensive in a rowdy leaders’ questions.

Sensing that the ugly scenes in which protesters trapped Joan Burton in her car for two hours at the weekend could mark a shift in support for the mass anti-charging campaign, the Taoiseach accused opponents of debasing democracy.

Mr Kenny demanded that Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy, who was a vocal figure at Saturday’s protest and who helped negotiate Ms Burton’s “release” in what the Taoiseach likened to a kidnapping, should apologise to the Tánaiste over the incident.

As Mr Murphy did not have to hand the megaphone he admits to keeping in his car boot — presumably in case he stumbles across an indignant crowd in need of encouragement — it was quite difficult to hear his response, but colleagues insisted it was the Government who should apologise.

Independent TD Mick Wallace went further and called for the Government to resign. But as Mr Wallace recited a long list of things Fine Gael promised and failed to deliver, one waggish TD shouted “tax compliance?” at him in a cutting reference to the former developer’s Vat-dodging past at one of his companies.

It was all getting a bit personal, and with a bomb threat against Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency office and bullets sent to his Labour colleague Aodhán Ó Riordáin, the temperature of the Dáil was unusually tense as Mr Kenny painted a picture of mob rule on the horizon.

As the row raged, one of the Dáil’s star performers, Mary Lou McDonald, was notable by her absence.

“I’m on the bold step, in the naughty corner,” mused the Sinn Féin deputy leader.

That would be the bold step in the naughty corner of the parlour of self-publicity as Ms McDonald milked every last drop of attention from her three-day suspension from the Dáil.

“It wasn’t a stunt,” Ms McDonald sharply insisted when questioned about her stunt last Thursday when a four-hour sit-in forced the abandonment of Dáil business.

Now she wants a meeting with the Ceann Comhairle to discuss her lack of confidence in him, his failure to be impartial, and general “unfairness”. That should be a fun get-together.

Back in the chamber — Ms McDonald graciously decided not to storm in, in order to spare the ushers “embarrassment” — Mr Kenny was berating the “baying mob” for “descending on the Tánaiste’s car like hounds after a fox”.

Himself hunted for so long, Mr Kenny clearly hopes a public backlash against the increasingly threatening atmosphere will turn the tables and see his enemies on the run for once.

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