Miriam Lord: Dáil voting, Gerry Adams’s hair and the never-ending tit-for-tat

Unwelcome light has settled on cavalier attitude of some politicians to their Dáil duty

There was a noticable increase in TDs in Dáil Eireann to vote on a recent amendment after the fallout from the recent 'Votegate' scandal. Video: Oireachtas

 

Since the embarrassing revelation that many TDs can’t cope with the onerous task of having to occasionally sit in a designated seat for a couple of minutes and press a button in return for a handsome salary, Dáil votes have become very serious affairs.

They will remain so until at least the new year, by which time a drink-addled post-Christmas media may have forgotten this latest episode of Dáil delinquency. Or until a suitable technology is embedded in the voting stalls to prevent deputies voting for themselves and on behalf of others.

Votegate, as it became known, shone an unwelcome light on the cavalier attitude of some politicians to doing their Dáil duty. They are very privileged to possess a vote in the national parliament and their electorate expects them to exercise it wisely. Instead, some came to view it as a bothersome chore or an optional extra.

Now that the game is up, votes are conducted with a showy display of full care and attention. The Ceann Comhairle calls on everyone to take their seats, precipitating a gallop of the virtuous to their allotted pews. Numbers coming into the chamber – from nearby offices or wherever else – have increased.

The officials clustering around a table on the floor of the chamber and scrutinising the result
The officials clustering around a table on the floor of the chamber and scrutinising the result

It looks suspiciously like the party whips have been doing some serious cracking.

Take yesterday afternoon, in the middle of a monumentally dull Dáil day when hardly a sinner stirred in the chamber and the public corridors of Leinster House were draped in leaden silence. And yet, when a vote was called late in the afternoon on the minor “Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment ) Bill 2019 – Amendment 5”, there was a rush to the chamber when the bells rang.

Not only that, but the turnout included the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, almost every member of Cabinet, leader of Fianna Fáil and a healthy contingent from the main Opposition party. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald wasn’t present , but that didn’t matter as her former leader, Gerry Adams, was garnering most of the attention on the Shinner benches with his new hairstyle.

Serious business Once the buttons have been pressed and the minute allowed for this is up, the serious business of making sure everything has been properly conducted in accordance with the rules can begin. Since

votegate, this now involves a swarm of tellers from all representative groups, along with a few officials, clustering around a table on the floor of the chamber and scrutinising the result. There are furrowed brows as they all bend and look at the voting map, before scanning the benches to make sure the right people voted in the right place. There is some very serious counting followed by the mass whipping out of Biros and a frenzy of signing on the dotted lines.

As they lean in and look down at the table, the tellers look like a group of road workers peering into a hole. All they are missing is the shovels.

Away from shovels and the novelty of voting shenanigans, a never-ending crisis was wheeled out again during Leader’s Questions. The hospital trolley league of limitless shame was contested during another round of fruitless argument between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders.

Comparing trolleys is all they ever do when discussing the crisis in emergency departments.

The Taoiseach said as much when Micheál Martin took him to task over the crisis (679 on trolleys countrywide that morning, according to Micheál).

“This is a really difficult problem and it has been with us for decades. We know that there are also problems in many other countries as well,” said Leo Varadkar. But they are doing everything possible to deal with the crisis.

And anyway, you had more trolleys on your watch when you were minister than I had on mine when I was minister, Leo told Micheál, as Labour’s Brendan Howlin (another former health minister) chortled, “I’m enjoying this history lesson.”

Like two stags locking horns, only in this case ramming into each with hospital trolleys. It’s a never-ending, tit-for-tat, who was the worst minister of them all in the pantheon of overall duds.

“No disrespect,” said Micheál, but “people are finding it difficult to comprehend this ongoing, sort of robotic, detached response” from the Taoiseach to their emergency department ordeals. There is “a huge disconnect” between what he says in the Dáil, with his facts and figures, and the reality on the ground.

“Either we’re not all getting it or the people out there aren’t getting it and you have some insight that no one else has in terms of the reality of people’s experiences in our emergency departments and in our hospitals.”

Furthermore, continued the Fianna Fáil leader, he finds Leo’s explanations about the jobs moratorium in health are “becoming very irritating and annoying”.

Do something about it. Have “a fundamental reflection and rethink”.

On his trolley Leo then climbed up on his trolley. “I don’t mean any disrespect to you either, but your self-righteousness knows no limits. Let’s not forget – I’ll give you some facts – that you were minister for health once,” he began, pushing back at Micheál.

“He was a much better one than you . . .” Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin loyally tutted.

Leo was on a trolley roll.

“And you were famous for chiding Tallaght hospital for not ordering enough trolleys when they were famously treating people in the car park.” Sure he didn’t even know how many people were on the trolleys “those days” because they wouldn’t, even couldn’t count them.

“So, you should be off your high horse when it comes to this one.”

Michael Healy-Rae (has a horse outside) lost patience with the argument between the two sides which still operate a confidence-and-supply agreement keeping Fine Gael in power.

“You wouldn’t have a horse only for Fianna Fáil.”

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