Reality check for Shattering class
There was never any doubt about what the first matter for discussion was going to be
“I think it is a wake-up call, Taoiseach” said Micheál Martin. “There is nothing more important in our country than the children of the nation” replied Enda describing the programme as “a shocking expose” .
How to silence the Dáil’s Shattering class?
Inject a shot of reality.
The giddiness that goes with the hunt for a ministerial scalp (no matter how optimistic that might be) has infected the political and media ranks in Leinster House for the last couple of weeks.
Shattergate offered a grand whiff of conspiracy, along with a tempting chance to see if an aloof Government Minister could be forced from hauteur to humble pie because he just couldn’t resist scoring a cheap point off a political rival.
Thankfully, a Fianna Fáil motion of no confidence in Alan Shatter was due to conclude last night. So the chamber remained Shatterproof for Leaders’ Questions yesterday morning.
The chamber filled up quicker than usual because the authorities had widened the doorway so the Minister for Justice could get his head through it after he had heaped much praise on himself when contributing to the debate and apologising to Mick Wallace for telling tales about him.
Alan takes lots of sugar with his humble pie. It’s the only way he can stomach it.
He wasn’t around for Leaders’ Questions when the story of how he might or might not have been obnoxious to a young garda who had the temerity to ask him to exhale into a breathalyser device seemed trivial in the general scheme of things.
There was never any doubt about what the first matter for discussion was going to be. After the previous night’s airing of the Prime Time investigation into the standard of care in creches, the wellbeing of little children was bound to feature.
The Fianna Fáil and the Sinn Féin leaders both addressed the issues raised in the documentary. “I think it is a wake-up call, Taoiseach” said Micheál Martin.
“There is nothing more important in our country than the children of the nation” replied Enda.
There will have been a lot of worried parents leaving their children into creches yesterday. The Taoiseach wasn’t exactly comforting.
“God knows what has happened in other locations,” he shuddered.
Gerry Adams was as perturbed as Enda and Micheál. “On behalf of Sinn Féin, I also offer support,” he began, citing his party’s long history of working with the government on children’s rights’ issues.
Questions were asked about when legislation relating to child services will be enacted. The Taoiseach assured the party leaders that it would be brought in as soon as possible and appealed for their support.
Absolutely, said the other two. You can count on us.
Enda thanked them and accepted their offer of co-operation.
This was one of those times when everyone sang off the same hymn sheet. A non-confrontational instalment of Leaders’ Questions.
For the children.
As Enda and Micheál and Gerry pledged to do everything they can to cherish the little ones, there was a low hum of conversation in the chamber. Mumble, mumble, mumble.
Because who doesn’t cherish the children? So they let the principal characters get on with it, burnishing their outrage, because it’s only right.
But the mumble, mumble, mumble rising from quite a lot of the lads was off-putting.
Then John Halligan of the Technical Group got to his feet. Was he going to make it a hat-trick for RTÉ’s documentary? He pitched his piece into the background chatter. Strongly and clearly.
“With us in the gallery today are Mr Tom Curran, the partner of Ms Marie Fleming, and Ms Fleming’s daughter, Corrinna, along with some friends. I gave the Taoiseach notice of this question because I know the issue is controversial and delicate, although we can be reflective,” he began.
The TDs stopped talking. One or two turned to ask colleagues if they were thinking of the right woman.
Yes. That Marie Fleming.
That Marie Fleming.
And from then on, there wasn’t a sound. John Halligan addressed a silent chamber about the terminally ill woman who lost a Supreme Court appeal for the right to have an assisted suicide.
“Taoiseach. Marie Fleming still wants the right to die,” said Halligan.
Enda looked uncomfortable. But he wasn’t alone. It felt as if deputies were holding their breath while the Waterford TD starkly outlined Fleming’s situation. She was too sick to attend the Dáil. Her family looked on from the gallery.
“All of us have a right to a dignified life . . . but we also have the right to a dignified death,” said Halligan.
The Taoiseach had pages of typed notes in front of him.
He spoke of life and of death, compassion and love.
The Supreme Court, Halligan noted, had left the door open to legislate.
For all the Taoiseach’s heartfelt words it was only a matter of time before Enda reached for the Constitution.
“I understand the grief of this extraordinary woman and the commitment of her partner and family, but it is not open to me to give you the commitment you seek.”
Above in the gallery, the small group looked dismayed, but not terribly surprised.
The Taoiseach, in a chamber full of legislators, didn’t think he had the power to pass a law.
When Leaders’ Questions ended, you could sense the relief in the chamber.
And everyone returned to the usual knockabout.