Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Well, Fianna Fail had their Jim O'Keeffe moment today.

The week before last O'Keeffe conceded at a Fine Gael conference that crime figures had not doubled between 1995, as claimed by his party, but had stayed the same. He then tried to distinguish between low-level headline crimes like bicycle theft and serious crimes like rape, murder and serious assualt, which he said had increased.

But the damage was done. And it was compounded when in the course of the TV debate Enda Kenny said O'Keeffe - his party's justice spokesman - had not been in possession of the correct statistics. It was a bad moment.

Since then, the FF big swatters have swung into action, especially Mr Brawny from Offaly. They've slid in hard on the 2,000 extra cops claim, the 2,300 beds and the allegation that FG and Labour's tax proposals would benefit the top 3% of earners.

No matter if the claims are true or not. The name of the game is to get them out there, to sow seeds of doubts about the ability and competence of Enda, his party and its partner. Did Enda ride all those tackles as well as he could? It seems the public didn't think so. And FG and Labour took too long to counter-attack and do it with the ferocity of the FF push against them since last Thursday.

It was only in the wake of yesterday's poll that they came out fighting. Rabbitte and Richard Bruton called the FF 3% tax claim a blatant lie. But was it all a little too late.

And then just as Fianna Fail was getting into a hubris frame of mind and patting itself in the back for punching holes in opposition policies, it went one step too far and punched a massive hole in one of its own policies.

The three Fianna Fail ministers at the top table today - Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin, and Seamus Brennan - opened their mouths just long enough to take one foot out and put the other foot in.

The context was this. Last night on Question and Answers Brian Cowen had finally come up with a figure, telling how much co-location would cost the taxpayer. €70 million per year over seven years was his response.

Then this morning, Brennan and Hanafin said it would cost €40 million between now and 2011. When asked to clarify this, total confusion reigned. Seamus started to talk about it being difficult to pin down the cost on tax breaks. When pressed further, a note was passed up from the sides.

And finally, Colin Hunt, the FF economic guru, had to step in from the wings to explain it all. Not everybody in the press corps were sure who he was. But he explained that the project would cost E47 million per year but the net cost would be E40 million. He also said that Cowen had referred last night to E40 million being the net cost.

There were a couple of snide remarks from journalists asking if Mr Cowen had had the right statistics to hand last night.

And predictably FG and Labour quickly went to town on it, with the usual barrage of verbal heavy artillery.

We're less than 48 hours away now. Tomorrow is a broadcast moratorium day. Embarrassing as it was for the Government, did it come a little bit too late.

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