Miriam Lord: Full-on meeting of the mutual irritation society

Leo v Micheál: leaders get personal, citing hypocrisy and two-facedness

The Taoiseach wasn’t behaving like someone who wants to keep his confidence and supply partners sweet.   Photograph: Fran Veale

The Taoiseach wasn’t behaving like someone who wants to keep his confidence and supply partners sweet. Photograph: Fran Veale

 

Highlight of the Day in Leinster House.

We had the TV monitors switched to different channels in the office at teatime.

Sky News was on for the result of the latest Conservative Party leadership ballot with the more humdrum Dáil proceedings droning away on the other.

After the Westminster announcement, we muted Sky and turned up the volume on the Oireachtas feed again for the debate on national maternity services.

The effect was mesmerising.

The very posh Rory Stewart, who had just been eliminated from the contest, was being interviewed about the result. Back in the Dáil, Mattie McGrath was in full flight on maternity matters. The screens side by side, with Stewart’s mouth moving and Mattie’s voice booming out.

You had to be there.

We’re not the better of it.

But at least it woke us up. We’re not saying the Dáil was dull, but somebody crept into the chamber during the day and wallpapered over it, TDs included, in fuzzy beige. No one noticed.

The Taoiseach wasn’t behaving like someone who wants to keep his confidence-and-supply partners sweet

There was some skirmishing during Leaders’ Questions when the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil – the latter keeping the former in power – resumed sniping at each other.

Leo Varadkar’s hybrid government arrangement has more than a touch of internal combustion about it.

While the grudging accord between the two largest parties has never been a mutual admiration society, when Varadkar and Micheál Martin engage in the chamber these days it’s a full-on meeting of the mutual irritation society. The Taoiseach, in particular, has been rather personal when trying to take his opponent down a peg or two.

Yet again – it seems like every day now – Leo found it necessary to tell Micheál to “calm down” as the older man got on with doing what leaders of the Opposition are supposed to do – oppose.

Some day (we can only dream), Leo’s passive aggressive approach to niggling the highly experienced Micheál will provoke an eruption.

“Calm down? Calm down? Don’t you #*%!!* tell me to calm down. I am #*%!!!* calm!”

But for now, Martin simply shakes his head and smiles.

Crossing swords

Wednesday was the second day the two crossed swords on the threatened strike by hospital support staff. The industrial action was called off later in the evening.

“These workers are the cogs in the wheels of our health service,” said the Fianna Fáil leader, taking the Taoiseach to task for attacking him twice because he had the temerity to once more mention the situation facing the low-paid hospital workers.

Micheál hadn’t forgotten that the Taoiseach criticised him last week for highlighting the low pay and poor working conditions endured by many members of the Defence Forces.

“You have a tendency, Taoiseach, to be dismissive when it comes to low-paid workers and their situation,” he remarked, seeking out Fine Gael’s Achilles’ heel.

He added that when Fianna Fáil questioned the escalating costs for the national children’s hospital and the national broadband plan, their concerns were dismissed.

“You had no problem then with the massive overspends and the runaway nature of spending on both those projects,” quivered Micheál, “yet when it comes to low-paid workers Taoiseach, in our health services and Defence Forces, you get on your high horse, you adopt a dismissive tone and you attack the Opposition for daring to even raise the issues.”

And then he informed Leo, who is a big fan of cricket, that his Government “has not played with a straight bat”.

The Taoiseach responded. Micheál has every right to ask him questions and he is totally cool with that.

“This is a parliament, this is a democracy, this is the place where the leader of the Opposition asks questions and this is where I answer them and I am very happy to answer.”

Then Leo turned on his prissy, patronising button. He has no difficulty answering Micheál’s questions, “but I do think you need to be a bit less querulous, a little bit less sensitive and a lot less precious”.

He’s a hard man, that Leo Varadkar.

Furthermore, if Fianna Fáil wants to lecture his Government about overspending while simultaneously demanding they shell out money for anything and everything, he is going to call them out on the hypocrisy of their position.

The Taoiseach wasn’t behaving like someone who wants to keep his confidence-and-supply partners sweet.

But then, before he came in for Leaders’ Questions, Fianna Fáil had been attacking his Minister for Finance for increasing spending.

He turned on Micheál: “Then you come in here and demand more spending just as you did yesterday, just as you did the week before. You know, it’s entirely reasonable for me to point out to the Irish people, and to everyone, the hypocrisy and two-facedness of the positions that you take.”

The Taoiseach liked the phrase so much he served it up three times to the Fianna Fáil ranks. “Hypocrisy and two-facedness.”

“That sounds like an election,” said Labour’s Brendan Howlin, watching the tetchy exchanges.

Fianna Fáil cut the minimum wage, charged the Taoiseach.

“We brought in the minimum wage,” bridled Thomas Byrne, on behalf of the affronted Micheál.

“You cut it,” countered Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Byrne reminded Fine Gael that their administration originally promised to pay the hospital workers. But the Taoiseach was not going to listen to Fianna Fáil expressing concern for low-paid workers. Why? Because of the “hypocrisy and two-faced nature” of their position.

“That’s a nice thing to say,” murmured Michael Healy-Rae, thoroughly enjoying the spat.

Then the two sides shouted at each other about who did the most for low-paid workers and who did what about the minimum wage.

“Hypocrisy and two-facedness,” repeated Leo.

“Talk about biting the hand that feeds,” smirked Healy-Rae, as the Fine Gael leader got stuck into Fianna Fáil, the party keeping him in Government.

Micheál felt obliged to remind the Government that his party facilitated the last three budgets and all its other obligations under the confidence-and-supply agreement. They have been “constructive and responsible” in fulfilling their “parliamentary duties”.

You could the feel the gratitude dripping from the other side.

“Fianna Fáil cut the minimum wage,” shrugged Harris, digging in.

Getting on like a house on fire.

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