Ceann Comhairle loses his cool as Wallace reduced to sideshow

Thu, Jun 14, 2012, 01:00

DÁIL SKETCH:THE PRIMARY school tots in the gallery were highly amused. For entertainment value, yesterday morning’s uproar in the Dáil was almost as good as a bouncy castle.

They stood up in their seats, pressing their little noses to the glass as TDs screamed and roared at each other.

“Will yis stay quiet!” bellowed the Ceann Comhairle at his unruly charges.

“Oooh!” went the tots, giggling with delight. They could identify with this.

Joan Burton and Ruairí Quinn twinkled up at them, enjoying their reactions to the childish antics going on below.

The initial outbursts came when the Fianna Fáil leader questioned the Government’s job creation programme. His remarks were drowned out by jeers.

Micheál Martin was barracked as he tried to make his points. The Ceann Comhairle told him to hurry up.

Micheál protested he had been “interrupted non-stop” since he started to speak. The taunts kept coming but he eventually said his piece and sat down. Fuming.

The Taoiseach stood, hand on hip, doing his “I’m a Little Taoiseach” routine: here’s my handle and now I’m going to spout.

Deputy Martin had some cheek lecturing him, as a former minister “who abdicated your responsibility, didn’t attend your meetings in Europe, failed utterly to deliver . . .” Cue more ructions.

The tots in the gallery were enthralled, unlike the Fianna Fáil leader, who was incensed.

He jumped to his feet.

“I beg your pardon!” shrieked Micheál, shaking with anger, one hand on his hip, the other one jabbing the air. “Withdraw that!”

With Enda’s crooked arm on one side and Micheál’s on the other, it was like little teapots at dawn. “Withdraw that!” Enda smirked.

Pat Rabbitte motioned towards Billy Kelleher, sitting behind his incandescent leader. “Get Billy to hold your jacket!”

The Ceann Comhairle struggled to maintain order.

“Will you cool down?” he implored, while the teachers herded the reluctant tots away from the unpleasantness.

Order returned, but not for long, for Micheál was still feeling sore. He had another bee in his bonnet, this time to do with getting Dáil time to discuss Mick Wallace’s admission that he falsified his VAT returns.

The Ceann Comhairle had ruled out Wallace’s request to make a personal statement to the House, citing rule 44 of Standing Orders. Micheál Martin felt the matter could be debated under a different rule.

During the Order of Business, he tried to make his case. But Sean Barrett, particularly thin-skinned yesterday, wouldn’t entertain him.

He had applied the correct ruling in the circumstances and if Micheál “taken the trouble to lift the phone” he would have explained this.

They got into an unmerciful row.

Mick Wallace sat in his place in the upper corner, growing more agitated by the minute. He put his hand up and leaned forward, willing the Chair to recognise him

But Sean Barrett and Micheál Martin were engrossed in their own private war.

Wallace waved and waved. He stood up, he sat down, he scrunched up his hair with his hands until it was in a heap on the top of his head. Clare Daly of the Socialist Party tried to calm him.

Finally, the Ceann Comhairle brought the venomous exchange to a close by suspending the House. “I’ll deal with you when I come back,” he said to Micheál, before sweeping out.

“I’ll have a proper answer next time,” said the Fianna Fáil leader, banging the desk.

When the session resumed, the Ceann Comhairle calmly restated his position and said if anybody wanted to ask the Government for speaking time they were free to do so.

Micheál persisted, but got nowhere. “I’ll write you a letter,” he huffed.

Meanwhile, business carried on. Mick Wallace was beside himself, waving even more frantically than before.

He finally got to ask if he could have a chance to make a statement. The Ceann Comhairle indicated what avenues might be available.

Following a series of meetings in the afternoon, a solution of sorts was found. A committee will enquire into what action the Dáil might be able to take in relation to Wallace while the party whips reached an agreement to facilitate his request, subject to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste’s consent.

But there remains disquiet among TDs of all parties about affording him a free, unchallenged platform. However, it now looks likely he will address the Dáil this morning.

Unusually for a Thursday, this should guarantee a full House.

That should please the Tánaiste.