No Rome rule when it comes to Ratoath

Byelection canvass centres on Government’s proposals to deal with mortgage arrears

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett noted the pope’s choice of the name Francis. St Francis, he said, was the son of a wealthy merchant who repudiated wealth, and the Government should take a leaf out of his book.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett noted the pope’s choice of the name Francis. St Francis, he said, was the son of a wealthy merchant who repudiated wealth, and the Government should take a leaf out of his book. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fri, Mar 15, 2013, 00:06

The Meath East byelection is in full swing in Leinster House. Canvassing is intense, whether by way of measured contribution or heckle.

Yesterday the canvass issue centred on the Government’s proposals to deal with mortgage arrears. Papal congratulations featured, but no party went as far as asking the new pope to pray for its candidate.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was present for Opposition leaders’ questions, although he usually leaves it to a party colleague on Thursday mornings. He is very anxious to see the Fianna Fáil version of white smoke rise over Meath East on count day.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who will be in charge of the country on St Patrick’s Day as his ministerial colleagues traverse the world, stood in for the Government.

Martin said there was worry about house repossessions, adding that the Government’s proposals put the banks in the driving seat.

Who would oversee the deals being done on behalf of mortgage-holders ?

Then it was time for a more focused Meath East canvass. “I knocked on a door in Steeplechase in Ratoath yesterday and a gentleman told me that three of his neighbours had received letters from the banks telling them that they had to sell their homes,” said Martin.

“That was on the day that the Taoiseach had told me in the House that essentially repossessions were not going to happen except in very extreme circumstances.”

Noonan, a veteran of many byelections, sat impassively above the fray as backbenchers, eager for the canvass, heckled Martin. The Fianna Fáil leader noted his party had put together a debt-settlement Bill setting up an independent office to oversee mortgage restructuring.

Noonan rose to speak, exuding a papal gravitas. The Opposition no doubt anticipated a robust defence of the Government from the Minister, who can engage in a political scrap with the best of them. Instead, his opening words took them by surprise as he congratulated Pope Francis on his elevation. “I am sure the people of Ireland wish him very well, as I know this House does,” he said.

Then it was back to the byelection canvass.

Noonan said there would be independent oversight by way of the Central Bank. And he appeared to threaten the banks with a belt of a fiscal crozier if they did not co-operate.

He noted that the Central Bank was the licensing authority for the banks and, therefore, it was in best position to insist on its policies being carried out. And it would do so, he said.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett noted the pope’s choice of the name Francis. St Francis, he said, was the son of a wealthy merchant who repudiated wealth, and the Government should take a leaf out of his book.

Ratoath has met Rome in the battle for supremacy in Meath East but no party is claiming infallibility when predicting the result of this electoral conclave.