Andrew Lynch: Enda's childishness will cost us jobs -- and rebound on FG
The great parliamentary wit John Kelly once said that Fine Gael could never pass a sleeping dog without feeling the need to give it a good kick. Now Enda Kenny has done it again -- and this time, the dog has jumped up and given him a well-deserved bite on the backside.
Just as the Government appears to be on the brink of collapse, FG have scored an own goal by preventing Tanaiste Mary Coughlan from going on a jobs and education mission to the US -- a petty and short- sighted move that only makes the party look desperate for power at any price.
This controversy has its roots in the old-fashioned Dail system that requires TDs to be physically present in the chamber when votes are being taken. It has always been a tradition that when a minister is away on business, the opposition 'pairs up' with them by withdrawing one of their own TDs. If a Government has a tiny majority, as this one does, then it is completely dependent on other parties to do the decent thing.
With the Dail set to return from its ridiculously long summer holiday this week, FG have upped the ante with their dramatic announcement that from now on they will be much less generous about providing 'pairs'.
The party's official explanation is that they want to do everything in their power to force a general election as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they've chosen to take the gloves off at the worst possible moment -- and left Enda Kenny wide open to the accusation that he's prepared to play politics with other people's jobs.
This week, Mary Coughlan was scheduled to lead an Enterprise Ireland trip to the US for a series of meetings on attracting investment and wealthy students to this country. A whole series of meetings with important business and education leaders had been lined up.
Now, because of FG's infantile decision, she cannot go -- forcing red-faced officials in Ireland to make urgent phone calls and apologise for her absence. Of course, we've all learned in recent years that some political trips are merely junkets in disguise. Only this weekend, it emerged that the Department of Foreign Affairs blew over €21,000 on just one night's accommodation for a state delegation at a five-star Rome hotel to attend the Pope's funeral in 2005.
On this occasion, however, there can be no doubt that Ms Coughlan's journey was both legitimate and necessary -- and at a time when 450,000 people are languishing on the dole, stopping a Government minister from travelling abroad is the sort of gombeen politics that causes so many people to despair of the whole system.
FG's feeble excuse is that they want Ms Coughlan to stay at home so that she can answer Dail questions on the FAS scandal, which comes under her remit as Minister for Education. As important as this issue is, there is no pressing reason why it has to be dealt with this week.
Her US visit, on the other hand, has been planned for the last eight months -- and once that opportunity is gone, it is probably gone forever.
The great irony is that FG has made this blunder just at a moment when the Government's Dail majority is crumbling away without any help from the opposition.
With several Independent TDs looking out for their own seats by warning that Brian Cowen can no longer count on their support, a general election cannot be postponed for much longer.
At that election, the public will be looking for a party that puts economic recovery ahead of its own childish self-interest -- and on that score, Enda Kenny has let himself down badly.
Behind the scenes, the debate over Mr Kenny's leadership is still raging within FG.
With his position as precarious as ever, Mr Kenny needs to avoid making stupid mistakes.
Sadly, the FG leader's decision to withdraw Mary Coughlan's 'pair' must count as one of his most foolish yet.
He really should have allowed that dog to carry on sleeping.