The crime debate yesterday in the Dail was everything that David Cameron's speech to the Troy Party conference in Blackpool wasn't. The three principals all cleaved to their script. It was Brian Lenihan's first major speech as Justice Minister. A day later I'm looking at him on the TV monitor now speaking live (well maybe dead!) on the Land and Conveyancing Reform Bill 2006 (don't ask because I haven't!).
Lenihan is polished, smart and establishmentarian to his fingertips (head boy at Belvedere; Oxford University).
There will be no McDowellite rushes of blood to the head. Which is a pity. McDowell was a radical thinker but never a politician. Everything he ever promised in terms of legislation was subsequently watered down. Lenihan will have no such problem. He will always have fantastic command of his brief, and will be able to defend himself, his Government and his guards to the hilt. His major problem will be that he's unlikely to come up with an idea worth talking about.
Ditto for Charlie Flanagan. After his bloomer during the election campaign, Jim O'Keeffe was never going to survive. Flanagan is a heavy hitter, another smart man and a lawyer to boot. But he's going to have to get the finger out. His speech yesterday was terrible. It lacked a unifying theme and contained phrases and scare-mongering passages that were cliched and hackneyed 20 years ago, 30 years ago, in similar debates in Leinster House.
His worst sentence: "The unacceptable face of Celtic Tiger Ireland reveals a society where our elderly citizens are terrified in their homes, men and women alike are afraid to walk the streets at night, our children can obtain drugs freely in any school yard in the country, we have seen the emergence of drive-by shootings, tiger kidnappings and callous contract killings."
Stoking up fear. The only line that was missing was the one about people no longer being able to keep the keys in their front door.
Fine Gael is not going to get anywhere if it keeps banging on the same drum, ratcheting up fears on crime. Sure, it can come up with tough policies. But it needs different policies; not just more of the same.
Pat Rabbitte's first outing for Labour was low-key. Rabbitte is an ideas and concepts politician but this speech was not the one where they were to be found.