In last Thursday's Irish Times, Stephen Collins provided a vivid illustration of Bertiespeak and Tánaiste Michael McDowell's communication problems with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as they struggle to patch up what Labour Party Leader Pat Rabbitte has termed the "Sulk Coalition."
Getting to grips with what the Taoiseach is really saying is often a problem for his Coalition colleagues and the Opposition parties alike. The very reason the Opposition finds it hard to land a blow on the Taoiseach is the same one that regularly confuses his Coalition partners about what he is actually saying.
What, for instance was McDowell to make of this section of the Taoiseach's speech to the Dáil yesterday?
"I didn't tell the present Tánaiste about Michael Wall and I didn't see what, I didn't see, he didn't want to know that either of who I bought my house from. In so far as it's painted a connection now that Michael Wall was somebody who was at the Manchester function. Well he wasn't at the Manchester function. Yes, yes but he was not a donor, he was not, and that's the fact."
It is impossible to know from that passage whether the Taoiseach was purposely trying to confuse the issue or simply got tied in a knot trying to explain how it was that he did not tell the Dáil two days earlier that Wall was at the Manchester event. Either way, McDowell was the one left looking foolish when it emerged that Ahern not only knows Wall well but actually bought his house from him.
In Saturday's Irish Examiner, Ryle Dwyer writes on how Michael McDowell reacted with moral outrage to questionable ethics from the Opposition benches:
Some deputies recognise that McDowell adopted one standard in opposition and another in government. They ask how he would have behaved if he were in opposition at the moment.
There was an incident that gives some insight into his likely behaviour. It was a question of an indirect loan involving then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who was backed by Tánaiste Dick Spring.
“Two non-residents, through an intermediary, made a largely gratuitous non-commercial loan of more than £1 million to a company in which the Taoiseach was the major shareholder and were granted Irish citizenship in a process which completely departed from the purpose and criteria laid down in the business migration scheme”, Michael McDowell told the Dáil on July 1, 1994.
“The Tánaiste has claimed that an examination of the files has shown that there was nothing improper as if the files would contain something which would prove the obvious impropriety of what happened”, McDowell continued. “He cannot seriously survey the facts I mentioned and say that what happened was proper. If he reflected on the matter he would see there has been a highly improper abuse of public office to financially benefit a member of the Government.
The Tánaiste’s critical faculties are not normally so defective as to prevent him seeing the obvious truth of the situation.
If the Tánaiste takes the view that there was nothing untoward in what happened it follows that it is his view that this transaction could be repeated to enrich members of the Government and nothing should be said against it. If the Tánaiste can see nothing untoward in all of this he is fairly, and not abusively, described as morally brain dead”.
Pray tell us, Michael, how you think you should fairly describe your own behaviour this week? Of course, his real problem may not be his current conduct so much as his past behaviour coming back to haunt him. As Bertie says, nobody is perfect.