Miriam Lord: Dr Feelgood needs his Project Happy now

Micheál gets ratty in slugfest over housing, CO2 monitors and Belarus comparisons

Hurry up with your wellbeing framework!

It’s too late now for the current session but it would be a good idea to have something in place by the time the TDs return to the parliamentary coalface in September. Dáil Éireann is a very unhappy house at the moment.

We must admit the existence of a Well-being Framework for Ireland had passed us by until Wednesday afternoon when the Taoiseach was asked about it by Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly. She mentioned it in a question about the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).

Louise said she knew the council did a lot of very good work and had been heavily involved in developing this national contentment strategy.

“This will be an important assessment of our State beyond just looking at the economics,” she said.

The Taoiseach was only delighted to fill her in on Project Happy because it’s his baby and right there in the Programme for Government.

“We appreciate the work that NESC has done in relation to the subgroup of stakeholders and experts it created to support the development of a Wellbeing Framework for Ireland and the consultation in terms of different social partnership pillars, external experts, interested parties. And I think a lot of good progress was made in relation to this. It is going to take time to get the criteria right,” he said, reading a script perpetrated by someone with scant regard for the wellbeing of anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.

Micheál revealed that 500 organisations were surveyed by NESC, research is ongoing into wellbeing initiatives around the world while departmental consultation sessions and working groups are happening all over the shop.

The good news is that the council now believes “there is a compelling case for developing a Well-being Framework in Ireland and for the centrality of consultation to this work”.

We’re feeling better already.

But what is Micheál’s National Feelgood Factor all about and can it be fed intravenously to members of Dáil Éireann? With a hefty side order for everyone else, God help us.

“A wellbeing framework can contribute to a more holistic approach to wellbeing by creating a shared vision, which mobilises action by making policy action or review to measure the lived experience of citizens,” he bamboozled.

“It can help to create greater focus on outcomes within the policy system on cross-cutting approaches and the role of collaboration earlier and more formally in all stages of the policy process, including oversight and review. And the council believes, like the Government, that the development of a wellbeing framework is an opportunity to bring about a transformation in a fair and equitable way, addressing complex policy priorities.”

You’d need a good lie down after that.

Then Fianna Fáil's Dr Feelgood quoted Bobby Kennedy talking about what GDP does and doesn't measure before saying he thinks the wellbeing framework "is really about capturing that which makes life essential in terms of the quality of life".

Sadly, the spirit of his national happiness project (it’s still a work in progress) was not in evidence in the Dáil on Wednesday where it was all about the quality of strife.

Trading blows

The Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin president carried on savaging each other for sport during Leaders’ Questions. As the final bell went in their latest housing slugfest, they were still trading blows.

“I lead a Government that will invest more in social housing than any other in history. I lead a Government that will get the State and local authorities building homes again despite your objections and I lead a Government that will face you down – and everybody else who tries just to object for their own electoral advantage,” he shouted above Mary Lou’s barrage of interruptions.

“Yeah, that’s right, Micheál. Well done. Good man,” she scoffed, rounding on him for “flatly refusing” to answer her questions and reacting in “that hysterical manner” when held to account.

Kindly Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats had some supportive words for the Taoiseach. She recalled his party colleague, Jim O'Callaghan, saying after Fianna Fáil's abysmal showing in the Dublin South West byelection that the party didn't understand the scale of the housing crisis.

“I happen to think that Mr O’Callaghan was being unfair,” soothed Catherine.

"It's not just Fianna Fáil that doesn't understand the scale of the housing crisis. It's the entire Government."

Oh. That was no help to Micheál’s wellbeing framework.

And what about the wellbeing of the children of Ireland? Bríd Smith of People Before Profit was concerned about them when she got an answer from the Department of Education to her parliamentary question about the provision of CO2 air quality monitors for schools when they return in the autumn.

“And wait ‘til I give you the figures now, they’re quite startling,” she warned him.

She wasn’t wrong.

Norma Foley’s department confirmed that a number of monitors would be provided. “Between two and 20 at primary level” and “between 20 and 35 at post-primary level”. There are more than 3,200 primary schools and over 725 secondary schools in the country.

The Taoiseach’s wellbeing framework took another buffeting. He sounded nonplussed.

“The CO2 monitors are recommended for the schools. The working group has recommended them. The Minister is committed to providing CO2 monitors to schools across the length and breadth of the country,” he said. But he hadn’t seen the reply and was not aware of “the context”.

It was a parliamentary question, interjected Bríd.

“But sorry, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen it. Okay?”

Micheál was getting ratty now.

“I have spoken to the Minister about this. CO2 monitors are important and the Minister is committed to providing CO2 monitors to schools,” he snapped. “That’s it.”

Oh dear. His wellbeing framework was in flitters.

“This is a joke!” hissed Bríd.

Economic plan

And then the wellbeing of the Government came under terrible strain because of the Summer Economic Plan. All day, there was talk of a tense standoff between the Fine Gael Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and his FF Minister for Housing over it.

Micheál has staked his reputation on delivering a fairer and more affordable housing system. His new mantra is that the key to solving the housing crisis is not about resources but delivery.

But with the plan ready for launch, it seemed Paschal was refusing to release the huge chunk of money needed to kick start Micheál’s ambitious building programme. A truce was brokered in the afternoon and Paschal finally loosened the purse strings.

Back in the Dáil, Independent TD for Clare Michael McNamara, unhappy about the way the new rules for dining indoors were being rushed through parliament, started asking questions about when public unrest might be permissible. “At what point is civil disobedience acceptable and legitimate if democracy is not adhered to?

Last summer the Taoiseach supported peaceful civil disobedience in Belarus, he noted. At what point is civil disobedience acceptable and legitimate if democracy is not adhered to?

“Through the chair, is the deputy comparing Belarus to Ireland?” asked the Taoiseach. “We are not comparable, in any shape or form, to the Lukashenko regime.”

McNamara said he was not. He was merely posing a question.

Which brings us to that one-man wellbeing framework wrecking ball, Mattie McGrath. The leader of the Roaring Independents Group was feeling sore over the mauling he rightly received for comparing public health measures here to the worst excesses of Nazi Germany. He tried to wriggle out of his weasel words but was fooling no one.

Instead he turned his attention to Minister of State Pippa Hackett and accused her of "destroying Irish forestry" and "State-sponsored terrorism".

The Taoiseach told him to “cop on”.

He finished his day at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting where there was the usual murder.

They desperately need a wellbeing framework but some of them wouldn’t recognise one if it walloped them on the backside.