Schoolyard sniggering in Dáil hits new levels of camp


JUST TAKING a moment to clear up why the Government has plummeted in popularity – God help us, I have to do everything round here. The Government has plummeted in popularity because . . . it is turning out just like the old government. By their expensive advisers shall ye know them. By their unexplained referendums shall they be distinguished.

Then there is the Dáil, which has hit new levels of camp. It is hard to decide whether it is more unsettling to see the Dáil empty of our public representatives or full of them. Their debates have become like something from that excellent film, Mean Girls, which explored the nightmare world of teenage girl gangs and adolescent cruelty. In the film the mob laughs with relief at every outrage, because its members are so relieved not to be the victims themselves of such pointless nastiness.

You get the picture. First of all Pat Rabbitte flounced into the playground and slammed Richard Boyd Barrett to the mat by saying,“Just because you’ve a double-barrelled name doesn’t mean you can ask two questions.” To which Boyd Barrett’s Very Best Friend, Joe Higgins, masterfully replied, “Just because you’ve a double chin doesn’t mean . . .” Unfortunately the rest of that sentence is lost to history.

Rabbitte had already had a go at Mary Lou McDonald when she questioned the Government over the cutting of the lone parents’ allowance. We are reliably informed that she had recently returned from a holiday.“Such tanned indignation,” hissed Rabbitte. Burn, girl!

You do have to ask yourself whether this is a parliament in a western democracy or an assembly of drag queens on holiday. Actually, drag queens would lose their following if they came up with repartee this lame. Drag queens, Mean Girls . . . I just can’t decide. The Dáil so closely resembles those US high schools you see in films such as Mean Girls that I think the comparison is just about irresistible.

Come on, hordes of prosperous adolescents patrolling the corridors in too-tight clothing, constantly on the phone simply to feud with each other and pass on puerile gossip. And then there’s Mean Girls . . . Sorry, that was cheap.

But where were all our chatty boys when Clare Daly’s Bill on abortion was being discussed? The Dáil looked pretty empty to me. They must have been out getting their nails sharpened. Meanwhile, it was mainly the women of the Dáil who had the time to debate a serious issue in the echoing vastness of the empty chamber. It is true that Michelle Mulherin (FG Mayo) took a roundabout route to disagree with abortion – her speech had to be explained to me afterwards. I had thought she was being rather brilliantly sarcastic. But at least Deputy Mulherin was in the Dáil chamber at the time; a policy which she might believe, given her fondness for the minority viewpoint, is what she gets paid for.

Unfortunately her use of that buzz word, fornication, gave her parliamentary colleagues and the greater part of the media a grand excuse for some schoolyard sniggering, and distracted attention from Daly’s unanswerable case. This reaction was reminiscent of the time long, long ago when a family planning Bill was being debated in the Dáil. There was talk of how contraceptives were being bought by southerners in the North. “Up the Bogside!” shouted one parliamentary wag. “Up the backside,” shouted another. My, how we laughed.

Deputy Mulherin’s use of the word fornication may have been a deliberately distracting ploy, to shield her bosses in government – now that is mean. In any event the satirical radio programme, Green Tea, had the best fun with it, saying on its Saturday edition that if Michelle Mulherin was against fornication then the United Left Alliance was firmly for it.

Maybe what the Dáil drama really needs is a nice explanatory voiceover. Green Tea relies on its voiceovers rather too much. But you can see how useful a voiceover is in imposing order on chaos; and they do have the sound system in the Dáil already, for a really good Pigs In Space type voiceover, à la The Muppets, which would have the deputies looking skywards. Less sexual innuendo on Green Tea would also be welcome – it’s always the least funny factor on the show, and as we all know that goes for the Dáil as well.

Green Tea takes its jokes almost exclusively from the Oireachtas – the Oireachtas and RTÉ. Its newsreaders and weather forecasters are fantastic. The slogan for the programme is: “If you thought recent events were beyond satire, then think again.” But how can satire work fast enough for Irish politics? Green Tea’s sketch about Enda collecting conscientious members of the Troika from an empty Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport was terribly funny, particularly as he tried to get them into a taxi: “ But the file says that the Metro cost €150 million already. Surely it must be ready!” Then they wanted to see Thornton Hall prison –“You’ve spent €42 million so far, it must look fantastic!”

I can’t wait until Green Tea get round to their version of the Dáil Mean Girls routine; and they have plenty have time, because it is going to run and run.