Howlin deflects as Martin fails to get clear answer


Dáil sketch:There was no evidence on the Cabinet benches yesterday of the green EU presidency ties sported recently by Ministers. Perhaps they have been mothballed until Ireland is fiscally free.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin was more interested in wearing the green jersey when asked about the contamination of burgers.

He said all TDs would agree that the food industry was a critical part of Ireland’s economic activity and critical to the export sector and jobs. “That is why we have such a high standard of oversight of food production in this country.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, wearing a red tie, thought Howlin’s green jersey was a diversionary tactic.

The Minister had failed to explain why Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney had not been told last November or December, rather than last Monday, that the tests were positive.

Howlin outlined a sequence of events, from the surveys undertaken in mid-November to the Minister informing the Cabinet on Tuesday.

“Should the Minister not have been informed in November?” Martin asked.

Howlin discarded the green jersey for a politically bullet-proof jacket. “We are going into a level of detail now.”

Martin insisted he wanted a straight answer to a straight question. Howlin passed the buck. “All of this – the sequence of events, the degree of knowledge and the quality of the result – can be put in clear questions to the Minister for Agriculture. He will lay it out in a completely open and transparent way.”

As Martin continued to press the matter of ministerial knowledge, Howlin changed back to the green jersey.

“Irish products were examined by Irish authorities and the results were made known by Irish authorities in order that the standards we demand are maintained.”

Martin shook his head. “He did not answer the question.”

Howlin again donned the politically bullet-proof jacket when he was challenged on the economy by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Independent John Halligan.

McDonald asked how people could afford the property tax when a survey by the Irish Credit Unions revealed that 1.6 million people had just €50 or less to spend at the end of each month.

“So, Brendan Howlin, Minister, tell me where those individuals in those families, identified in that survey, are going to find the €300, €400 or €500 you are demanding.”

Howlin said he and the Government were acutely aware of the pressure, “but Mary Lou McDonald, deputy, does not listen”.

Halligan said only massive emigration was keeping the number below 500,000.

The Minister and his colleagues later left for the special Cabinet meeting on jobs, seeking no doubt the green shoots of economic recovery rather than any sartorial display of Irishness.