Dreaming of a Mattressgate to get us started on a new term

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

SKETCH:THE CEANN Comhairle entered the chamber. Somewhere in the ether, a hypnotist clicked his fingers and uttered the magic words: “And . . . we’re back in the room!” Dáil Éireann shook itself and looked around. A bit dazed. A little fuzzy.

No memory of the antics of the past couple of months: Government deputies puffing and panting up Croagh Patrick. Leo Varadkar, bog-snorkelling. Brian Hayes, flying a kite. Joan Burton, shooting it down. James Reilly falling down a rabbit hole and disappearing. Enda embarking on a flight of fancy with Vladimir Lenin. Tall ships, beefy quarterbacks and gold medals. Did any of it really happen? The summer recess already forgotten.

Click! And they were back in the room. Business as usual.

Which, in a way, was rather depressing yesterday.

Dicey Reilly was back in the firing line. The Taoiseach waffled. Micheál Martin got cranky. The backbenchers heckled. Gerry Adams mangled some more Irish. Shane Ross reprised his Sindo column and stood up for the middle classes. Peter Mathews delivered a lecture on the economic crisis. Mick Wallace and Clare Daly sat together in touching solidarity. And nobody knew what Mattie McGrath was talking about. On the first day back, a display of new term enthusiasm and energy wasn’t too much to expect from the Dáil.

A large number of deputies were so excited that they didn’t turn up at all for Leaders’ Questions, such was their eagerness to return to the fray.

Their loss, in a session which saw the Taoiseach regaling the house with the thrilling story of the Mattresses of Kiltimagh.

It was the highlight of this Oireachtas production, with its topical take on the Olympic opening ceremony and its dancing public servants and waltzing hospital beds.

The continuing crisis in health was the main theme of yesterday’s session. Hospital ward closures, job losses, cuts in payments for the disabled and carers and the rumoured poisonous state of relations between Minister for Health James Reilly and his junior minister, Roisin Shortall, was the main cause of concern for the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin leaders.

Enda explained it all away with his folksy homily about the forgotten mattresses of Kiltimagh – not forgetting beds, hoists and wheelchairs. “Who are ya coddin?” sniffed Micheál.

But the Taoiseach was treading a well-worn path of conveniently deflecting hard Opposition questions with his usual attack on the policies of the previous administration.

The rest of the House may have been baffled by Enda’s sudden lurch into the world of “decontaminated medical devices” and hundreds of mattresses in storage in a warehouse in Kiltimagh, but this was the Taoiseach’s chosen line of waffle for the day.

It was his metaphor for the mess that the last crowd left his Government to clean up. They built in such a convoluted structure to the HSE that this valuable hospital equipment could not be released for use.

No wonder Dicey Reilly was smiling. His boss was putting up a sterling defence on his behalf. Joe Higgins once famously said that questioning Bertie Ahern was like playing handball against a haystack – a dull thud, and nothing comes back. Enda Kenny cleverly adapted mattresses yesterday for that same purpose.

But Micheál Martin was not happy with the response. Enda’s beds were bugging him.

He returned to the subject during the Order of Business, insinuating that the Taoiseach had misled the House about the Mattresses of Kiltimagh and demanding that the Taoiseach correct the record.

He stood up, holding his iPhone, appearing to read from it as if he had just received a very important clarification from the company in Mayo to which Enda had been referring.

“In essence, they never complained to you about inaction in the HSE in relation to anything. They are a very successful small company employing 90 people who are involved in recycling medical technology and equipment” he said. “Taoiseach, you do have a tendency to come in here and invent stories and make up stories. I think you should correct the record of the House in relation to a third party about this business – you seriously misled the House in answering a question I raised at Leaders’ Questions.”

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle moved to defuse the situation. Micheál’s intervention was out of order.

“I’ll answer it now,” insisted Enda. “Because I was there yesterday. I was there yesterday. The position is that this was done on a county-by-county basis. The warehouse is filled with equipment . . .”

“You’re wrong” countered Micheál. “I saw it, Deputy Martin.” “No, you’re wrong,” insisted the Fianna Fáil leader, as we dreamed of a Mattressgate to get us started on the new term.

“I saw it, Deputy Martin – the most stupid bureaucratic administration I’ve ever come across, and there’s at least €3 million of equipment in there. And the owner and his wife and their staff – I met them all yesterday. They do a superb job, I’m very proud of them.”

He explained that the Government, through Minister Reilly, is taking steps to dismantle the old HSE regulations so the equipment can be released.

Micheál looked forlornly at his iPhone. But it didn’t give him cause for a comeback.

Oh yes, we were back in the room. Nothing has changed.