With all due respect, deputy, you’re an awful ****er
Gurriers, thugs, rats and buffoons: think what you like of our TDs but don’t tell it to them in the chambers of the Oireachtas
The Ceann Comhairle pretended not to hear the comments while minister for local government Kevin Boland backed Corry. The remarks were regarded as so offensive that they were not carried in the newspapers the following day. However, when Boland complained two weeks later that The Irish Times was engaged in “malicious reporting” of the Dáil, the newspaper published the exchange in a leader column.
Boland himself made an oft-quoted attack in the Dáil in March 1970 on conservationists campaigning to preserve Georgian Dublin, deriding them as “belted earls and their ladies and left-wing intellectuals”. Two months later he attacked his party leader and taoiseach Jack Lynch in the robust terms accusing him of “felon setting” and “treachery”.
It was a time of strongly held opinions. Limerick Labour TD Stevie Coughlan said on March 29th, 1971: “If we resort to the despicable practices of contraception, divorce and abortion we shall be finished as a nation.” Then, as now, debate on “moral issues” provoked intense emotions.
Charles Haughey also provoked intense reactions during his decades in politics. On his nomination as taoiseach in December 1979 Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald questioned Haughey’s fitness for office, describing him as having “a flawed pedigree”.
In November 1990 Labour leader Dick Spring went further: “This debate essentially is about the evil spirit that controls one political party in this Republic . . the cancer that is eating away at our body politic and the virus that has caused that cancer: an taoiseach, Charles J Haughey.”
A few years later, when Spring was in coalition with Fianna Fáil, Progressive Democrat TD Michael McDowell turned the tables and accused the Labour leader of being “morally brain dead”.
Those insults make Bertie Ahern’s description of Fine Gael TD Gay Mitchell in December 1994 as “a waffler” seem pretty harmless. It was the bitter tone in which Ahern uttered the word that made the exchange newsworthy.
An outbreak of insults in the Dáil can erupt without warning. On February 13th, 2002, a number of TDs got stuck into each other as an innocuous debate suddenly spiralled out of control. It began when Fianna Fáil’s Dick Roche allegedly described Labour TD Liz McManus as a “pro-abortionist” but Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison didn’t hear the remark.
Fine Gael’s Nora Owen waded in: “A thug was allowed to insult another member of this House. It is a disgrace.” Roche then described Fine Gael’s Michael Ring as “a thug and a gurrier.” After disorder and a suspension of the House, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte wound up by describing Roche as “a slithering political lizard”.
The trading of insults, some unpleasant and others unacceptable, is part of the price we pay for free speech in a democratic parliament.