By Shaun Connolly
SEX, lies and audiotape dominated a telling few days in Irish politics.
A confected kerfuffle about an HSE-funded website for teenagers that advised on threesomes set the parameters for a curious series of events.
Self-styled ‘sexperts’ took issue with the website and warned that threesomes could be damaging, as one participant feels left out and unloved.
Who would have guessed the first person to prove the rule publicly would be seemingly squeaky-clean Eamon Gilmore?
Mr Gilmore tried to seduce the voters of Meath East with a twistedly bizarre ménage à trois offer involving him, Enda Kenny, and the electorate that backfired spectacularly.
His amorous overtures left Labour with a severe case of ‘elect-ile’ dysfunction as its share of the vote drooped to a deeply unimpressive 4.6%.
Mr Gilmore tried to use his tired old chat-up lines, from the general election two years ago, to woo supporters back into bed with Labour.
But when the Tánaiste asks people to trust him, and lie back and think of Ireland, all they hear is the word ‘lie’, and suddenly develop a headache.
A last-minute leaflet told Meath East it had to vote Labour, as the party was the only one that could make a difference in the Dáil and stop the mad, right-wing excesses of austerity junkies, Fine Gael.
Where did we hear those sweet-nothings before?
Oh, yes, in the final week of the general election, when Labour put out a bombshell newspaper ad, stating that without the ‘people’s party’ in power to put the brakes on, a Blueshirt government would impose the most outrageous assault on family life.
Under the banner headline ‘Every Little Hurts: What Fine Gael Has In Store For You,’ the ad warned that, without Labour to restrain them, Mr Kenny and his bad-hearted buddies would: Bring in a €50 hike in car tax; raise Vat; put €1 on a bottle of wine; impose a water tax; raise tax on savings; and cut child benefit by €252 a year for a families with two children.
Now, five of those predictions have come true, and the sixth, water-charging, arrives soon, all with Labour’s backing — and the party is still shocked at the kicking it got in Meath East, when voters decided it was not an effective barrier method protecting them from the Blueshirts?
The roots of the cynicism that pervades Irish politics, and the loathing voters have for the Dáil establishment, can largely be traced back to that last, frantic week of the 2011 campaign, as Labour was so desperate to stop a majority Fine Gael government, and the Blueshirts were so determined to secure one, that both parties were prepared to say anything to see their goal realised.
Fianna Fáil was dead in the water, so the main battle was between the two parties who then found themselves in Coalition — and, surprise, surprise, suddenly Fine Gael in power abandoned its key pledge not to pump another cent into Anglo, and Labour let them ride roughshod over everything else.
Lies have become such a currency of the Coalition that a minister must be hung out to dry if he tells the truth.
The audiotape of Leo Varadkar being questioned about whether women who earn less than their childcare costs would have to quit work, under new insolvency rules, makes interesting listening as the Transport Minister, at first, tries to avoid the issue by insisting he was out of the country last week.
When this column then tells him we are discussing matters that arose in the previous 24 hours, the Minister begins to open up and, eventually, gives a straight answer to a straight question, which was that, as per the Government-created guidelines, the lowest-earning parent (almost always a woman) would have to look at the childcare-cost issue if seeking mortgage-debt help.
With the truth loose, the Government went into panic mode, and we then had the Alice In Wonderland — or in this case Leo In Liarland — scenario of Mr Varadkar having to publicly apologise for telling the truth, because this had contradicted the untruths of the Taoiseach, in the Dáil, who denied any knowledge of the logical consequences of his own Government’s insolvency guidelines.
Poor old Leo: after being forced through that North Koreanesque bout of self-criticism, because he had dared stray from the Orwellian group think of the Coalition, he then faced the rather bruising headline: “Leo, You’re A Disgrace — Mums”.
Did even his own mum think he was a disgrace, as the headline implied. Surely not?
Maybe Mr Varadkar should stick to the easy antics of his publicity-hungry colleague, and moral guardian of Mayo, Michelle Mulherin, who had voiced outrage at the threesome advice on the HSE-sponsored website.
The advice had stayed there, unnoticed and unbothered, for three years, but Ms Mulherin was so concerned about the damage it was doing to impressionable young minds, she alerted every teenager in the country to it — and just happened to find herself on the front pages, as a result.
This is the TD who has such a lightening-strike mind that she told the Dáil last year: “Fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies.”
Such incredible insight sparked international media ridicule of the country, with headlines like: “Irish Lawmaker Pinpoints Sex As Cause Of Babies.”
But, maybe it is too late for Leo, because he has form for telling the truth and got his last, public, unhappy slapping from Cabinet colleagues when he dared to state the blindingly obvious fact that Ireland may need a second bail-out, if it cannot sort out the bank debt hangover and return to the markets later this year.
So, while the country is living on borrowed money, it would seem Little Leo is living on borrowed time.
Telling the truth twice is dangerous enough. Three strikes and you’re out — especially as this Government seems to dislike threesomes so much.
Which brings us back to Mr Gilmore. His political impotence has been made more distressing because the Blueshirts took Meath East, austerity and all. A large swathe of the electorate has developed an economically sadomasochistic relationship with Mr Kenny and Co — and now embrace ‘fifty shades’ of Fine Gael.