SHAUN CONNOLLY: Government in a spin as Garth reshuffles political news

IN A week when the Dáil’s set piece theatre of Leaders Questions was reduced to the status of Leaders Stetsons, the Cabinet reshuffle was in danger of becoming a sideshow to a country singer’s no show.

Indeed, concern that the petulant posturing of Garth Brooks could steal the headlines even delayed the much trumpeted attempted relaunch of the Government.

Despite a real sense of drift for the past three months as sectional, petty party interest in the local and Euro elections, then Labour’s self-indulgently long leadership contest gave the Coalition the look of a caretaker government, the Government clearly did not know how to take care of its own image as the Cabinet carve-up shows.

Labour has fared badly in being forced to settle for the Environment department when it pushed so hard for the Jobs portfolio.

Instead of the good news arena of economic recovery, Labour will be left dealing with Phil Hogan’s hangover at Environment.

After Labour’s inability to get what it wanted allowed the reshuffle situation to spin out all week, rumour fed upon rumour as the announcement of the new Cabinet was repeatedly delayed yesterday .

Had a minister really refused to resign?

If the speculation proved true that Dr Disaster James Reilly was being bumped-up to Foreign Affairs would that mean his lucky touch would see the country at war within weeks and thrown out of the EU by September?

What was going on with the Defence portfolio? At one point it was being sliced-off to sit alongside Arts in a most unusual coupling which brought to mind that infamous observation attributed to Hermann Goering: “Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.”

Would Mary Mitchell O’Connor really be made Arts Minister? Given that the Dun Laoghaire TD is best known for accidentally driving her car along the pedestrian plinth in front of the Dáil, her elevation to Transport Minister was certainly out of the question.

But after several days when political life was dominated by Mr Brooks, anything seemed possible.

Ms Burton’s first outing as Tánaiste was worrying as her stint at Leaders Questions ranged from Garth to Gaza — and she seemed to come across as more passionate and engaged with Garthgate than the grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate Israeli bombardment of the blockaded Palestinian enclave as Ms Burton merely went through the motions of reading out a bland statement, presumably prepared for her by the Foreign Affairs Department.

Imagine what moral backbone a Labour leader like Michael D Higgins would have brought to such a subject? Imagine what such words would have done to boost morale among Labour voters now revolted by the seeming irrelevance of Labour in Government?

But on Garthgate there was no stopping the new Labour leader as she even used the occasion to appeal for the singer to climax his world tour in Dublin in two years’ time.

Now, this could well have been a very clever strategic ploy by Ms Burton as she must know that the lack of push through on Cabinet changes means Labour will be out of government by then, so it will be up to the next administration — probably a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil one — to deal with the inevitable mess that is bound to ensue.

As the Dáil took on a cartoon-like air of the surreal, Fianna Fáil’s tourism spokesperson Timmy Dooley appeared genuinely excited that Garth could be watching Leaders Questions live on the web as he once again pushed his emergency legislation to let the concerts go ahead.

Where was the emergency legislation for the victims of Priory Hall?

Why didn’t Taoiseach Enda Kenny put the same effort into negotiations to free Ireland of its €64bn legacy bank debt as he was with Mr Brooks’ €50m blow to the Dublin economy?

Why wasn’t there the same push in the Dáil to change the planning laws when they threatened the endlessly delayed national children’s hospital?

Independent TD Finian McGrath accused Labour TDs of “intellectual snobbery” because Mr Brooks is a country act. “If that was Leonard Cohen they would be jumping up and down,” Mr McGrath boomed as the Ceann Comhairle barked back: “Do not make a farce out of the whole thing.”

Bit too late to start worrying about that, buddy.

But the Cohen analogy is prescient as the noted miserablist is the prefect soundtrack for Labour’s 18 month long walk to the gallows of the next election.

Taking Environment ensures Labour will be the party of water taxes without metering as the first bills — which for most people will be higher than the notional average of €240 — pop through the letter boxes.

Labour will be the party of the property tax at a time when the leeway allowed to local authorities to reduce it by 15% is unlikely to materialise.

Labour will be the party held responsible for a shake-up of council funding likely to see authorities in Dublin and Cork subsidising rural areas to a degree which is bound to provoke a voter backlash in those cities where Labour fared so badly in May.

Labour claim Environment is a win because it has been expanded to take in housing — but this is the fag-butt last 18 months of this Government so nothing substantial can possibly be delivered in that time.

Labour initially opposed the property and water taxes — and has been in charge of housing for the past three years via its last not-so-super “super junior” Cabinet member — now it will get the blame for failures in all three areas.

Good move lads.

With Mr Kenny’s obsession with the Brooks botch-job and missed opportunity to give Fine Gael a fresh face, coupled with Ms Burton’s failure to land a significant Cabinet concession in the shake-down, the so-called revamp of the Coalition has left both leaders in a bad light.

Indeed, Taoiseach and Tánaiste could each be damned with the killer phrase: “Big Hat, No Cattle,” as they say in Nashville.


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