Hush in the House as Howlin turns tables on SF


DÁIL SKETCH:Brendan Howlin speaks of ‘the irony’ as Mary Lou seeks answers on Croke Park breaches

YOU CAN take the teacher out of the school but . . . With one look Brendan Howlin turned the Dáil into a classroom and had the desired effect. Silence, however temporary, from the Opposition.

Sometimes, however, it’s his own side he needs to hush.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy had his first outing and hour of glory asking leaders’ questions, raising the issue of flooding in Cork and the Shannon and the question of compensation, assistance and bad planning. Nobody lost the head.

Political temperatures began to rise when Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald started her question by saying two Fine Gael Cabinet members had called on the Government to “breach its commitments” under the Croke Park agreement.

She demanded an assurance that increments would not be affected. To illustrate her point, she contrasted the pay of a secretary general at €200,000, a “single pay point” without increments, with that of a clerical officer. Their starting salary of just over €20,000 would take 13 increments and 17 years to hit the top end of the scale at €33,000.

Then she took a bit of a pop at the Government “yet again breaching its own salary cap” for the new chief executive of the VHI. However the Minister was quick to say he had approved and appointed nobody above €250,000 in the semi-State sector.

The VHI salary, Mary Lou told the House, was €238,727 and getting into her stride she reminded the Government of its repeated breaches of pay ceilings for special advisers.

Just a Yes or No answer, Mary Lou demanded on commitments to public sector pay increments. A step too far for the Government side. “There is a certain irony in taking lectures from Sinn Féin right now on the use of public funds,” sniped Howlin.

“Inkgate,” Patrick O’Donovan clarified, in case anyone had forgotten. “Answer the question,” said Mary Lou.

“This is a democratic forum,” the Minister, a former primary school teacher, reprimanded her, getting into teacher mode. “I know Sinn Féin members like to shout people down but we would like to be heard,” he said snippily.

“It’s not the Muppet Show on this side of the House,” Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín muttered, an apparent reference to the constant barracking by Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers, usually when Sinn Féin or the United Left Alliance are taking a pop at the Government.

The Minister stopped and stared – that classic evil eye teacher look. TDs checking their phones looked up with the silence. Tóibín stared defiantly back but his party colleague Brian Stanley looked down, smiling sheepishly.

In the brief silence and in case anyone misheard, Fine Gael’s Derek Keating protested: “Ceann Comhairle, he called him a muppet.” “You shouldn’t call members muppets,” said Labour’s Emmet Stagg.

The Minister started up again, referring to the “irony” of Sinn Féin “lecturing people on claiming expenses or spending public money”. His backbenchers should have realised he needed no help with the sharp retort.

“The taxpayer pays out and the highest claimants are in the Sinn Féin party.”