FERGUS FINLAY: Beware of ‘green shoot’ hunters suffering political hallucinations

EACH year at this time, I see it as my duty to tell you what’s going to happen next year.

I try not to reflect on the fact that I’m incapable of picking a winner at Leopardstown and remind myself about the things I got right (or nearly right) in my forecasts last year. Like cuts in child benefit, a terrible drubbing for the government parties in the local and European elections and the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. I was wrong about compulsory home holiday legislation. They didn’t get around to passing that law – mind you, so few people were able to afford a holiday abroad they probably didn’t have to. Anyway, here are my predictions. !


The Taoiseach says he has just seen the first green shoots of economic recovery in Clara, Co Offaly. Department of Finance experts are dispatched to the location to carry out an inspection. However, after close examination it is revealed that what the Taoiseach had seen was some mildew caused by floods.


The Government announces a hardship fund for ministers badly affected by pay cuts in the budget. Unclaimed monies previously intended for flood victims will be diverted to this fund. A spokesperson explained: “Now that ministers are expected to pay their own admission to race meetings and to buy rounds of drink, many are finding it hard to make ends meet.”


In a desperate attempt to restore popularity, several ministers announce they will not be going abroad for St Patrick’s Day. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism says he has decided to slum it at home for a change. Local media start a hardship fund to send the minister to the festivities in St Louis, Missouri. Enough money is raised to pay for a one-way ticket.


An opinion poll reveals that the combined government parties are at 3% between them – the first time in the history of opinion polling that the expected government vote was equal to the margin of error in the poll.


The Department of Finance reveals that the savings forecasts made in the December 2009 budget were slightly out – “instead of going for €4 billion in cuts,” a spokesperson explained, “we only needed €3.8bn”. It has been decided by Government to restore ministers’ pay to previous levels because they were the “cuts of last resort”. The good news, he added, is that the hardship fund is no longer needed.


In a sensational development, France withdraw from Group A of the World Cup finals after it is revealed that Thierry Henry has been having an affair with President Sarkozy’s wife, Carla. Ireland are given France’s place, but are beaten in the group stages by Mexico, Uruguay and South Africa. The Minister for Justice goes on television to demand that the entire group be replayed as Ireland has not had enough time to prepare.


The Taoiseach instructs ministers that as a gesture of national solidarity, and to show compassion to their constituents, they are all to spend their holidays at home. A government spokesperson appeals for calm as thousands of people from Louth, Limerick and Donegal are seen queuing outside travel agents to book holidays in Ibiza and Torremolinos. The situation is only brought under control when the Taoiseach allows his ministers to go abroad after all.


In the hope that nobody notices, the Taoiseach announces a cabinet reshuffle on the August bank holiday Monday. Six senior ministers are fired and new appointments are made from the junior ministerial ranks. “I’m doing this now,” he says, “to strengthen the undoubted talent in the cabinet and to bring some new blood into the battle. This revitalised cabinet will tackle the economic parameters head on.” He gets his wish, but nobody notices.


There’s been a fresh sighting of the green shoots of economic recovery. Experts are despatched to Dublin Port where media accounts of a lot of greenery have sparked great excitement. After close inspection, it’s discovered a new all-weather pitch is being imported for the just completed Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road.


The Taoiseach, disappointed with the lack of impact his cabinet reshuffle has made, announces a further reshuffle. This time, to everyone’s great astonishment, the Minister for Health announces her resignation. In her first public appearance for a decade, she acknowledges that the absence of a political party, a constituency and a mandate made it difficult to carry on. Since there are no volunteers to replace her, the post is left vacant. Nobody notices.


There are calls for a public inquiry when it is revealed that the ministers replaced in the cabinet reshuffle have been issued with free transport passes normally reserved for old age pensioners. A government spokesperson explains that most of them had been in government for so long they had forgotten how to drive and this measure was being taken for public safety reasons.


In a major political shock, the Government spokesperson resigns. Citing exhaustion, he issues a personal statement thanking the media for their courtesy. “In fairness,” the statement concludes, “no matter what old rubbish I was sent to dish you up, you were always very polite”. A government spokesperson makes it clear, however, that the government spokesperson will be replaced by a new government spokesperson. “Normal service will be maintained,” the interim government spokesperson confirms.

And apart from all that, may I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year. Finally, I’m hoping that next year we will have the chance to vote in a referendum on the rights of children. That would be a defining statement for us to make, especially after a year in which so much abuse of children has been revealed. It would make 2010 memorable for a lot of right reasons, compared with 2009 which will long be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

PS: I had written this column before hearing that Brian Lenihan is ill. It seems this is a particularly anxious time for him and for his family. I wish him a speedy recovery.


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