As troika departs, Fleming says no need for Labour to take on FG clothes and sell State assets

Leo Varadkar: the Minister for Transport was late  to the Dáil,  getting stuck  in traffic. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Leo Varadkar: the Minister for Transport was late to the Dáil, getting stuck in traffic. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 01:01

Embedding reform can be a trying process. Witness the Dáil. Three weeks into the earlier starts – 9.30am instead of 10.30am – and it hasn’t been easy.

Week one and Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar apologised for being 10 minutes late after getting stuck in traffic. On Wednesday, Independent TD Shane Ross missed his slot for questions, sending his apologies that he too was stuck in traffic. Yesterday, 9.30am became 9.38am with no explanation as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle took the chair. Nobody passed comment and questions continued until time was called at 10.45 am.

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming objected. They had started eight minutes late and there was time for two more questions, he grumbled.

“Actually there are four minutes left,” replied the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and time for one question.

An hour later, the Fianna Fáil man was on his feet again and there was loud jeering and laughter when he asked about the sale of State assets.

There would be no money this calendar year from the sale of those assets, he said. The troika was leaving the building, so to speak, and wouldn’t be asking that they be sold. The EU wouldn’t be asking either and the Opposition certainly didn’t want them sold.

“Your party sold the whole country,” shouted Minister of State Dinny McGinley, quick on the ball about what was coming.

Undeterred, the Fianna Fáil man continued provocatively. Why is the Labour Party, headed by the Tánaiste and ably assisted by Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte, determined to sell off Bord Gáis assets next year as well as power generation plants by the ESB, “when no one other than Fine Gael is asking you
to do so?”

A cacophony of sound and laughter erupted. The Tánaiste had the heartiest laugh. “Well, of all the hard-necked hypocrisy I’ve heard in this House in the past three years, this beats it all,” he said.

Here was the party that did the deal with the troika to sell €5 billion worth of assets, he said. “To get €5 billion by the end of 2010, you’d have had to sell every State company, port, airport and virtually everything the State owned.”

It was almost three years to the day since Fianna Fáil brought the troika in and put the country in receivership, he added, to near hysterical laughter and cheers. “For you to come in today with this cant, hypocrisy and nonsense, it really does beat Banagher.” Government bench cheers raised the roof.

Fleming came back.

“It’s clear I’ve rattled the Tánaiste,” he said calmly. Why was Labour determined to take on Fine Gael clothes and sell national infrastructure, Fleming persisted amid the jeering.

“The only rattle we’re getting here,” retorted the Tánaiste “is the rattle of the decrepit memorandum of understanding and the empty vessel that is now Fianna Fáil.”

When the chuckles faded to silence, Independent TD Finian McGrath piped up: “You didn’t answer the question.”

That does beat Banagher.