No help for Kenny as home truths break cosy spell
SKETCH:EVERY SO often, reality intrudes on the cosy conflict which characterises Leaders’ Questions.
No doubt Government deputies will dismiss as a stunt Richard Boyd Barrett’s decision to invite more than 50 home helps to watch Dáil proceedings from the public gallery. But the few Coalition TDs who were actually in the chamber stayed nervously quiet when Boyd Barrett announced their presence to the House.
They didn’t like it. No more than Enda Kenny did – he looked unnerved when Richard pointed up to the unhappy group sitting above him.
The Taoiseach was already aware that he wasn’t the most popular man in the place. When he was trying to defend his Minister for Health in the face of tough questioning from Micheál Martin, Enda quickly retreated to his fall-back position.
“Of all the Ministers in this Government, or any government, Minister Reilly has taken on the unenviable task of sorting out the wreckage left by his predecessors,” the Taoiseach blustered.
This was met by the usual weary groans from across the floor. That’s par for the course – but what he wasn’t expecting was the sudden expression of disgust from the public gallery.
It cut through everything, this very female chorus of surprise which greeted his statement: “Aaaaaw!” Enda didn’t look up, but everyone else did. Who were these women? It was mainly women. Some of them clapped their hands to their open mouths, as if surprised themselves by the vehemence of their reaction.
And the Minister for Health looked deeply uncomfortable.
From Micheál Martin to Mary Lou McDonald, James Reilly was getting it in the neck.
McDonald built on the publicly stated misgivings of Reilly’s Minister of State Róisín Shorthall on the primary care issue by adding Leo Varadkar’s comment that his actions could be interpreted as stroke politics.
Then she compounded Dr Reilly’s misery by questioning his suitability for office.
How could the Taoiseach stand by a Minister for Health who had had considerable interests in private medicine and nursing homes at a time that public services in the sector were being cut back and closed?
“He clearly has a direct and evident conflict of interests,” said the Sinn Féin deputy leader, as Reilly looked on glumly.
But it wasn’t much fun for Enda either. McDonald turned the Taoiseach’s clapped-out excuse that it’s all the fault of the previous crowd back on him.
“Surely you, that is so critical of Fianna Fáil and the administration that went before you, should ensure that where strokes are pulled by senior Government Ministers, that you, as Taoiseach, should call time on that.”