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Irish politicians focus on the mundane as Ukraine burns

Inside Politics: Turf continues to dominate exchanges in Leinster House

As Russia, Ukraine and Nato play out their deadly and high-stakes game of chess, Irish politics remains firmly focussed on the domestic and the mundane. Turf and that Tony Holohan job-that-wasn’t continued to dominate the political news yesterday, and the fallout will continue today.

To the extent that the war impinges on Irish politics, it does so mostly through upward pressures on the cost of living. That was the focus of sharp Dáil exchanges last night as Sinn Féin forced votes on measures it said would reduce the cost of living for ordinary people. The discomfort of Government TDs was obvious, as they were boxed into a corner and made to vote against cost-saving measures. Well, they had better get used to it. Making Government backbenchers queasy is the opposition’s job.

Here's our report from last night.

And Miriam Lord's take.


Expect turf to take centre stage at Leaders’ Questions again this morning when Green leader Eamon Ryan fronts up for the Government. Leo Varadkar normally takes the slot (Taoiseach Micheál Martin does Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but Varadkar is away in California on a trade mission, so Ryan is gamely stepping in. One feels that the turf lobby (definitely not to be confused with the terf lobby) will give him the benefit of their views across the Dáil chamber. It’s only the first week of the new Dáil term, but it already feels like there’s an extra edge to it. They’ll be scratching each other’s eyes out by July.

Harry McGee has a sober analysis of the turf wars here.

“There’s been plenty of huffing and puffing about Eamon Ryan’s turf ban but none of it will blow the House down,” he finds.

The saga of the Holohan job, and which Dáil committee is going to interview whom about it, took several twists and turns yesterday. The latest is that secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt and Holohan will appear at the health committee next week. But Watt has declined an invitation to appear at the finance committee to discuss the same issue. So Sinn Féin members of that committee Pearse Doherty and Mairéad Farrell will now seek to trigger the mechanism to compel Watt to attend. This requires a motion proposed by another committee – the procedures and privileges Committee – to be put before the Dáil and Seanad and passed.

Here's Jack Horgan-Jones's summary.

There was more pullen ‘n’ draggen at another Dáil committee yesterday which saw Senator Sharon Keogan resign from the children’s committee, which is chaired by Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funcheon, because she says she does not feel “safe or protected”.

Backstory: Keogan got embroiled in a row last week at the Committee on International Surrogacy after some members took exception to the language and tone she used towards some witnesses. The committee is examining the question of international surrogacy in advance of new laws governing the area; the Government proposes to ban commercial surrogacy here, but many parents – those suffering from infertility and same sex couples principally – seek commercial surrogacy arrangements in other countries, principally Ukraine. It’s a complicated, sensitive area.

At a private meeting of the committee yesterday, Keogan sought an apology from Senator Lynn Ruane and from Funcheon, who had chaired the meeting last week. None was forthcoming. So she has resigned from the children’s committee (which is chaired by Funcheon) but not from the surrogacy committee – which, as it happens, is meeting at 9.30 this morning. It might get a bigger audience than usual.

Jennifer Bray's report is here. The issue was also discussed on the Inside Politics podcast yesterday .

A few kilometres away, Russian forces moved into several villages in the east of Ukraine, while Poland and Bulgaria scrambled to make arrangements to compensate for now shut-off Russian gas. The Russian move was denounced by European leaders as “blackmail”, comes as Russia’s own economy wilts under sanctions and Western countries are sending more arms to Kyiv despite warnings from the Kremlin to back off.

Last night Ukrainian president Volodymyir Zelenskiy said: “The sooner everyone in Europe recognises that they cannot depend on Russia for trade, the sooner it will be possible to guarantee stability in European markets.” It looks like things are heading in the direction of escalation rather than the opposite.

Our lead story warns of further energy price rises.

But Europe Correspondent Naomi O'Leary says Russian's tactic could backfire, strengthening Western unity and accelerating the permanent moves away from reliance on Russian hyrdocarbons.

Best reads

What does Russia's move mean for Ireland?

Meanwhile, Simon Coveney says Russian assets in Ireland could be used to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Lord David Frost (remember him?) weighs in again.

Newton Emerson considers the plight of the DUP.

More on that Mary Lou defamation case against RTÉ.


Busy day in the Dáil for a Thursday, starting with Finance and then Public Expenditure questions, though Paschal Donohoe is unlikely to be present. There’s Leaders’ Questions at noon and then a slate of Government legislation. The Dáil adjourns at the relatively civilised hour of 9.30pm.

The Seanad resumes deliberations on the mammoth online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, while apart from the aforementioned surrogacy committee, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will discuss gender-based violence at the justice committee. The Taoiseach makes a rare committee appearance at the Good Friday Agreement committee, where he will talk – at some length, perhaps – on the shared island initiative. It’s one of his favourite subjects.

There's a full schedule of Oireachtas business here:

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is in Washington for a series of high level meetings, including with the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Preview here. Some unflattering things may be said about the British government's latest wheezes on the Northern Ireland protocol.

But whatever happens, we’ll keep you up to date on