SHAUN CONNOLLY: Joan Burton a hostage to fortune for Labour’s election hopes

THE dark arts of politics came to the fore as Labour leader Eamon Gilmore effectively took Joan Burton hostage as his human shield.

On top of this, Enda Kenny dragged out the threat of a banking crash probe to try to destabilise Fianna Fáil in May’s Euro elections, and the Minister for (Drive-By) Justice, Alan Shatter, settled another personal score with previously secret Government information.

Viewers of the political soap opera that is The Joan And Eamon Show will remember that in the last cliff-hanging episode the fractious couple decided to call an uneasy truce after Ms Burton just happened to let it slip that she stuffed all those vainglorious “Gilmore For Taoiseach” posters given to her in the 2011 general election into a garden shed, never to be seen again.

Now staring down the barrel of the electorate as the crunch Euro/local poll looms, Eamon has decided that if voters do pull the trigger the bullet is going to hit not just himself, but wound Joan as well — thus he has put her in charge of the campaign.

The news brought hope that Labour was finally doing something to stimulate the construction industry as rumours swept Joan’s West Dublin constituency that construction was about to begin on a giant new super shed where Ms Burton could dump all the election material that paints the Tánaiste in a positive light.

But is it really such a good idea for Eamon to tie himself to Joan as they drift towards the electoral iceberg?

As thoughts of the Titanic come to mind, it would be a stretch to re-imagine Labour’s odd couple as Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio, but it should be recalled that after disaster struck, Joan, sorry, Kate, scrambled onto a floating wardrobe and didn’t have too much trouble dumping the frozen shell of Eamon, sorry, Leonardo, over the side if it meant she got to live another day.

Spending a month storming around the country rallying Labour’s bedraggled troops could do the ambitious deputy leader no harm as every victorious candidate will be painted as a winner due to the heroic efforts of St Joan, and every loser, failing because of Gilmore’s unpopularity.

And, as the seats disappear on count night, to the tune of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, Joan will no doubt trill: “You’re Only As Good As The Leader You’re Landed With.”

Which is also an uncomfortable truth for Fianna Fáil as the Taoiseach suddenly remembers to hold a banking collapse probe which — purely coincidentally — will kick-in and remind voters of Micheál Martin’s central role in the last disaster-laden government just as they go to the polls.

But, in reality, Mr Martin does not need much help from outside when it comes to plunging Fianna Fáil into avoidable trouble.

If Mr Martin had the emotional intelligence to read the anti-X-Case mood of the party’s spring ard fheis he would have given his TDs a free vote on abortion then and it would have looked like leadership.

But being forced into the concession months later meant the move smacked of weakness and left his authority badly bruised.

As one waggish front bencher told this column: “FF decided to give Micheál a free vote on abortion.” Obviously, the FF-er in question will remain nameless (well, can you name anyone on the party’s front bench?).

And even to call it a front bench is somewhat generous as, due to depleted numbers, there are no backbenchers, so it is just a “bench”.

Some might find this especially apt as the bench in question often appears wooden and going nowhere.

The party had a chance to shake things up a bit with tomorrow’s selection convention for the Dublin Euro seat, but once again the leadership has done all in its power to turn this into another self-inflicted wound.

Curiously, Mr Martin likes to boast that he has not eaten a biscuit in more than 20 years, but has he ever played chess?

Probably not because it is clear that neither he, nor any of his handlers, have any idea about strategic thinking.

They have flailed around for months trying to find a headline grabbing candidate for Dublin, only to succeed in grabbing the kind of headlines no party wants.

It is bad enough to be publicly snubbed by former RTÉ news reader Anne Doyle, it is just embarrassing to be left dangling by the likes of Fine Gael rebel Peter Mathews.

So after these names were allowed to fly by the party machine, the inevitable crash back to earth followed, and the leadership finally settled on Mary Fitzpatrick as its choice, and rushed the convention to try ensure her victory.

This was a rather odd move as while Ms Fitzpatrick was a long-term rival to Bertie Ahern in his Drumcondra fiefdom, her presence will merely remind voters of the whole squalid Bertie saga and the fact he is the only taoiseach in the history of the State whose evidence was branded unbelievable by a tribunal of inquiry.

In the process, the party has brushed aside its highly capable Dublin Senator Averil Power, who has emerged as something of the post-crash human face of Fianna Fáil. Ms Power is also a much more gifted media communicator than Ms Fitzpatrick, and would have had a far better chance of re-adjusting the woeful gender balance in a party whose Dáil cohort is defiantly same sex.

But the leadership’s failure to back talent as it sought the soft touch of a “name” candidate saw Ms Power edge away from the contest, leaving Tiernan Brady as the grass-roots, anti-parachute candidate who may yet pull off a surprise showing as he also has widespread support from the aforementioned “bench”.

But the FF back-biting is as nothing compared to Mr Shatter’s brand of summary justice.

After ambushing befuddled tax cheat Mick Wallace live on TV with garda-supplied information that the anti-penalty point waiver TD had himself had penalty points waived, Mr Shatter moved to swat someone who had dared diss him in an Oireachtas committee over his handling of the national lottery license.

So, Mr Shatter used a Sinn Féin Dáil debate to reveal an audit he has been sitting on for some time which shows the Rehab organisation in a very poor light.

Though, as with Wallace, there is very little sympathy for Rehab’s boss Angela Kerins, the woman who dared criticise the minister, as she refuses to say what her salary is despite half the Cabinet now demanding to know.

Mr Shatter is developing a reputation for this type of crude, brutal, attack on critics, and he may find, as with Eamon and Joan, that the tactic becomes a hostage to fortune.


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