Miriam Lord: Brexit ‘like being eight and a half months pregnant for three years’
Nothing to do in Kildare Street but wait for big fish to savage themselves into a solution
By sticking to her script and keeping her replies low key Heather Humphreys easily reached her objective of escaping unscathed. File photograph: Alan Betson
These days we stand like spellbound urchins outside a sweetshop, eyes wide and noses pressed against the glass, gazing in growing astonishment as incredible scenes play out in the sugar-laden aisles within.
Compared with the riveting chaos in the House of Commons, it is so, so dull in Leinster House. Brexit has completely sucked the energy from the place. It is only the second week back since the long summer break but the days are already dragging. We are sitting in one parliament, but watching another. It’s the strangest feeling.
And while the ongoing jiggery-pokery in Westminster is gripping, it’s all kicking off in Washington too with the hoo-hah over Trump’s Ukrainian favours. But in Kildare Street there is nothing much to do but stick it out in Brexit limbo, casting a sideways glance towards the White House while humming a small fry’s lament. Nothing to do but wait for the big fish to savage themselves into some sort of a solution.
To add to the sense of drift, the Taoiseach is missing for the week, away in the US on official duty. The Tánaiste and a number of Ministers also took off for the States.
There was just one reporter on the Oireachtas press gallery for Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday. Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Business, was in the hot seat, taking over for Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who had done the honours the previous day.
“Where’s everyone?” we asked.
“Leo’s not here so nobody gives a f***.”
Harsh, but honest.
It’s not that there is nothing happening at this end. Quite the opposite. The budget is due in a couple of weeks. The shadow of Brexit looms ominously (its impact on Border areas was raised by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald). Heather made all the right noises as indicated on her briefing note.
Patients continue to languish on trolleys in hospital corridors. Labour’s Alan Kelly specifically mentioned the unacceptable situation in University Hospital Limerick.
“Nobody wants to see anyone on a trolley,” agreed Heather, before reading out the relevant statistics from her briefing.
“I thank the Minister for her generic response,” fibbed Alan.
Statistics-strewn reply Independent TD Catherine Connolly rowed in with the continuing problems at University Hospital Galway and the gap between “the Government’s commitment to deliver a public health system and the reality on the ground”.
Heather read a dry, statistic-strewn reply from her briefing notes, dashing the Galway deputy’s plea for a simple answer.
“Please do not give me rhetoric or something I don’t understand.”
Catherine got the answer the Minister was given.
The Fianna Fáil leader raised last week’s “savage assault” on Kevin Lunney of Quinn Industrial Holdings, an act of “savagery and inhumanity” which shocked the country. The time has come, said Micheál Martin, for the British and Irish governments to set up a special agency “to once and for all root this evil out of the Border region”.
The Minister roundly condemned the attack on Mr Lunney, with whom she is acquainted, along with earlier attacks on his colleagues.
Loyal to her briefing note, she said the Government would consider Micheál’s proposal, but stressed the existing task force is effective and working well.
By sticking to her script and keeping her replies low key before an Opposition content to go through the motions in the Taoiseach’s absence, Heather easily reached her objective of escaping unscathed.
There were more health- related issues during Questions on Promised Legislation, but with Minister for Health Simon Harris still on the way back from the US there was nobody from his department to address them.
Climate-change questions came up again, but Richard Bruton smothered them effortlessly. Former Sinn Féin TD, now leading Aontú, Peadar Tóibín took an Augustinian approach to the crisis. He asked Bruton to make sure the public transport service in Meath works before he gets involved in any more climate change-related photo ops. Lord, make us good environmentalists but not until we get a full fleet of buses for Navan.
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, the aftermath of the prime minister’s 11-nil thrashing in the UK supreme court was causing ructions in the House of Commons.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox, Basso Pantomimo in Boris Johnson’s discredited chorus, hammed it up shamelessly in the face of Tuesday’s legal shellacking, roaring: “This parliament is a dead parliament!”
Whereupon the listless legions in Leinster House looked around and experienced a collective “Hold me drink!” moment. You think that’s a dead parliament? We’ll show you a dead parliament.
Although, upon reflection, that’s not true. The Dáil is merely marking time. Resting its eyes. It may not be as entertaining or alarming, but better behaved and with a beating heart.
When we couldn’t stop ourselves tuning in to see a rudely unrepentant Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s return to Westminster – a matter-of-factly mendacious prime minister forced back to the dispatch box by the highest court in the land, the second stage of the Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019 was snoring along in a near-deserted Dáil chamber.
It was no match for Johnson’s brazen performance, topping the thigh-slapping music hall melodramatics of his boombastic AG.
Back in the Dáil, Minister of State David Stanton was on his feet, talking to the other couple of TDs in the chamber for the second stage of the Criminal Record (Exchange of Information) Bill.
The House was due to sit until 10.15pm. If they could stay awake.
Switch back to Westminster and for some reason, Johnson was boasting about riding around London without any protection, proving that he can tell the truth when he puts his mind to it. “Cycling around London with no protection whatsoever” were the sludge-gusset’s actual words.
A sludge-gusset revelling in his “incontinent goading” of an outraged opposition, as one MP put it.
He was still going strong when the Dáil adjourned over an hour ahead of time.
The TDs would have been out in time to hear him shout: “Show that we respect the judgment of the people.”
What he actually said was: “Respect the judgment of de Pfeffel!”
On the way out, we met a weary backbencher, wondering when this Brexit torment will end. “It’s like being 8½ months pregnant for the last three years.”
She’ll have to wait. It’s up to the will of de Pfeffel.
Which is a terrifying thought.