Miriam Lord: Boring old Brexit Bill hits the buffers early
Minister and Munster trade insults after achingly dull debate mercifully wraps up
At just 10 minutes to four on a Wednesday afternoon, the Ceann Comhairle called time on proceedings. On what is usually the busiest day of the week, Dáil Éireann wrapped up its business before teatime and the House adjourned. It had been scheduled to sit until 11.30pm.
But Bob hit the buffers.
The Brexit Omnibus Bill debate ran out of steam a full day and a half before it was scheduled to end. Nothing more to be said on the subject of Boring Old Brexit, which is what Bob became after the umpteenth TD read out yet another variation on the same script.
If truth be told, the debate sailed into the doldrums a few hours into the first day last week, but emergency legislation needs some bells and whistles for dramatic purposes even if everyone is supporting it. And so a vast amount of time was put aside for TDs to discuss the Bill. They demanded this window of verbosity because the issue is very serious, deserving the full benefit of their wisdom and wind.
No skin off the Government’s nose. Happy to oblige and clear the decks for two weeks so deputies from all sides could ramble on to their hearts’ content about nothing but Brexit, because this means they aren’t talking about other things.
By Tuesday, at the start of week two of Bobfest, the Opposition began grumbling about the time it was losing to a debate that nobody was listening to. There was no way they were going to keep talking about it until nearly midnight on Thursday.
It’s been achingly dull. There was great joy around Leinster House when Oireachtas staff realised that Bob’s time was up prematurely, thus sparing them the torture of having to stick around for another long night while a succession of TDs talked to the wall in a deserted chamber.
This joy was not unbridled, however, because the early closure of the Dáil left Senators in a state of confusion. How could the Lower House be finished for the afternoon when Seanad Éireann was still in session? It wasn’t right. The natural order had been upended.
Signalling the end, the Minister for Foreign Affairs solemnly declared “it’s too early to be any way optimistic”as parliamentary reporters sobbed with relief and going-home jackets were pulled on in offices throughout the building.
There was some minor friction before Bob departed when Winston Churchtown, aka Shane Ross, graced the Dáil chamber with his wonderful presence in the morning to deal with transport-related sections of the Brexit legislation. Winston always raises the tone.
And it’s funny the way other people start raising their tone too in his presence.
With Cheltenham just around the corner, Winston started talking about donkeys and thoroughbreds. But he said nothing about asses. He is a very modest man.
The Minister for Transport turned horsey all of a sudden when confronted by Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster, who blasted him for his “incompetent” handling of the controversial “green card” situation which will require motorists crossing the Border to produce proof of insurance in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Winston and Imelda traded insults after she witheringly thanked him for turning up in the Dáil having been unable to attend the transport committee meeting last week citing “pressure of work”.
“I hope you didn’t have to miss your elevenses,” she added.
This clearly stung the TD for Dublin Rathdown. It seems he read in Saturday’s Irish Times that he was able to fit in his coffee-break in the Oireachtas members’ bar, turn up in the Dáil to take a topical issue question and welcome a party of schoolchildren to Leinster House on the morning of the committee. Imelda tore strips off him at the meeting, questioning his absence due to pressure of work.
Winston, showing the benefits of his English public school education, rounded on Munster, informing her that her colleagues Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Pearse Doherty made “mature, sensitive and constructive” points during their contributions the previous evening.
“They were like thoroughbreds in a horse race and you came in as you normally do and you’re like a donkey in the last race, at the last fence. You upset the whole apple cart.”
We understand the two TDs continued their argument on the way out of the chamber, with the Minister accusing Munster of spilling the beans to this reporter about his “elevenses”.
The Sinn Féin deputy for Louth strongly denied this, but Winston remained thoroughly unconvinced and most annoyed. Which is a pity, because she wasn’t the one who told us. The Members’ Bar is a very popular spot around the time the Minister for Transport likes to visit, and TDs are terrible ones to talk.
But while Ross was present in the chamber, the Socialists were notable by their absence. Some might have concluded they were a bit embarrassed by Fiach Kelly’s entertaining exposition on Wednesday of documents shedding light on the inner workings of the Socialist Party.
“We always tell the truth to the working class. But we present the truth in the way which is most digestible to the working class at a particular time,” was one quote which will have tickled all the perfidious “petit bourgeois feminists” who must not be trusted.
Not a sign of any of them during Leaders’ Questions. Perhaps they were off getting their blessed ashes, although there won’t have been any left in Leinster House after Mattie McGrath’s annual Ash Wednesday Mass in the Oireachtas Restaurant’s private diningroom.
It was packed out this year. So packed that the priest had to break each host into pieces so all communicants could be served and then seek an extra pair of hands to help with the distribution. Mattie was called upon, but he declined.
All eyes turned to Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan, who once caused ructions and annoyed the Archbishop of Dublin when it was reported that she helped conduct a prayer service in her local parish church when the priest was unable to attend and celebrate Mass.
But Josepha declined too, as she is a Minister of the Word, not the Eucharist.
Eventually, Mattie called upon Senator Rónán Mullen who stepped into the breach.
Afterwards, there was a small but respectable display of blessed ashes on forehead in the chamber, but nothing like old days.