"I can honestly say sitting here that I can't think one other item that could have been done if I was in the country that hasn't been done over the last four or five days"
Noel Dempsey, Minister for Transport, 10 January 2010
It wasn't easy being useless, the minister thought to himself, as he wondered whether to have another cup of tea or wait the few minutes until his secretary general showed up for work and made it for him. He hated the cynicism that surrounded this issue. The people were so down on politicians at the moment that they assumed that the kind of mediocrity regularly displayed by the minister came naturally to him. They thought he had been born this way. What they didn't realise was that that it had taken decades of hard work to achieve this level of uselessness, years of ineffectual service at the top level of Irish politics. Only now, more than three decades after entering politics, did he feel so secure in his uselessness that he could attend a press conference about some crisis or other – a kerfuffle over salt, if he remembered rightly, although he hadn't been paying attention – and admit that he was as useless as a chocolate condom.
He put down the kettle he'd been absent-mindedly holding in his hand. He'd let the secretary general make the tea. Somehow, when the minister made it, the tea never tasted nice. He'd never mastered the art of putting a teabag in a mug, pouring in water and squeezing the bag against the side. Such a complicated choreography. Thank God for civil servants, he thought, not for the first time in his career; it's always good to have someone around to blame when things go wrong. And to make the tea, of course.
When he started out, all those years ago, his uselessness had been unformed and a little aimless; still his potential was obvious and made him a magnet for talent spotters in Fianna Fáil, who were always on the lookout for useless people who would go on to represent the party at council and Dáil level. Fianna Fáil was the party of uselessness. After Seán Lemass's time, it had embraced uselessness like Iris Robinson embraced teenagers; the minister had always felt comfortable there.
When the time came to display his uselessness at a national level, he grabbed the chance; so much so that for a time in the noughties, some people genuinely considered that he might be Taoiseach one day.
Working closely with Bertie Ahern had dulled his ambition for that office, however. There was no point in being Taoiseach if you couldn't be the most useless Taoiseach in history, and Ahern had that accolade sewn up. Sometimes you just had to admit that the other fella was better than you.
Still, there were opportunities at cabinet level to be mediocre and nobody could deny that the minister had exploited them for all they were worth. Who could forget the electronic voting machines – as useless as he was – which had to be put into cold storage when some bright spark pointed out that they couldn't be relied upon to come up with an accurate election result? And then there was the time that he told the operators of a motorway that they could have millions of euros a year if not enough people drove on their road; and then there was the time that he decided to cut the drink driving levels but then did a u-turn to pacify some backbench baloobas down the country; and the time that he delayed the opening of a motorway to pacify some backbench baloobas down the country, but then did a u-turn to keep the road safety do-gooders happy.
And never would he forget the time he flew off to the sun on the day that many people, including his own constituents, were enduring six-hour commutes because of the snow.
It was after that wheeze that he had admitted to the nation how useless he was; it still rankled with him that the people had taken offence and expressed shock at his revelation. How many more examples of his uselessness did they need before they would celebrate it rather than condemn it?
Still, he knew himself how good he was at being useless, and he was very popular in the party. That was all that mattered. He smiled to himself, a contented man in the prime of his working life.
He'd have a nice cup of tea to celebrate. If only he could find that damned general secretary.
Himself Alone: More Double Speak From Adams
Gerry Adams has told so many lies about his brother Liam, the alleged paedophile, that he has started to confuse himself. On Monday, he was quoted in a number of newspapers as saying that he had not known that Liam Adams was a member of Sinn Féin in 1997, although he was aware that he had been involved in republican circles.
However, only a few weeks before, when Liam Adams's alleged abuse of his daughter Áine emerged, Gerry Adams said he had moved quickly at the time to have his brother kicked out of Sinn Féin. Both of these claims can't be true. Even allowing for Adams's contempt for the truth, it's fairly spectacular dishonesty, which we'll add to the list of questions the Sinn Féin president has refused to answer since the controversy broke.