It’s coming up on 12 years now, but Mattie McGrath will never forget that night in the Fianna Fáil rooms when a Green Party minister landed in to lecture the Soldiers of Destiny about what constitutes a breeding bitch.
“I walked out of that parliamentary party room because I knew the whole thing was gone loo-lah,” he recalled on Wednesday, twirling his fingers in a spiral around his ears to convey the utter madness of the situation.
The Tipperary TD relived his dark night of the soul on that summer evening in 2010 while wrapping up the debate on the Rural Independents’ motion to scrap carbon tax, save frozen rural pensioners from perishing for the want of a bit of turf and snatch innocents who live beyond the Red Cow Roundabout from the rapacious maw of selfish townies and Eamon Ryan.
Mattie has history with the Greens. Now, over a decade later, the green spectre haunts him again, an “appalling vista”.
But while he might not admit it, the Greens have been very good to Mattie McGrath. The former Fianna Fáil deputy might not be where he is today were it not for that party’s determination to push through a ban on stag hunting and introduce dog-breeding legislation when in coalition with Fianna Fáil.
And he’s been making hay at their expense ever since.
John Gormley was the helpful bogeyman back then. Eamon Ryan’s predecessor as Green leader and minister for the environment in a Fianna Fail-dominated administration caused ructions with his Wildlife Bill. Mattie voted against it and was thrown out of the parliamentary party.
While his erstwhile colleagues were falling like nine pins, McGrath was returned to the Dáil and has thrived ever since
He then bossed the airwaves as a defender of rural pursuits and “the breeding – God forgive me – bitches”.
With Brian Cowen’s wretched government already well on its way to electoral hell in a handcart, Mattie couldn’t have bailed at a better time. John Gormley had done him a favour. He never sought to rejoin the parliamentary party after he was sanctioned in June and resigned from Fianna Fáil in January to run as an independent just a month before the Great Meltdown of 2011.
While his erstwhile colleagues were falling like nine pins, McGrath was returned to the Dáil and has thrived ever since.
Of course, everything was, and still is, the Greens’ fault.
Does Sean Fleming, who is now a Minister of State in Micheál Martin’s coalition but was also around for the Wildlife Bill upheaval, not remember what happened before? Mattie reminded him as he was sitting opposite, opening the Government’s case for rejecting the call to abolish carbon tax.
“This has a sense of deja vu for me … and you,” he told Sean. “You were in the same room as I was, up on the fifth floor. Your proud party with a fine room full of deputies and ministers and senators, when we had the minister for the environment, John Gormley, at the time and taoiseach Brian Cowen … and we got two hours discussing when a breeding – excuse the language now – when a breeding bitch would be a breeding bitch.”
Over a decade later, and McGrath still can’t say the word without apologising for his indelicacy. “And that was the deja vu. That was the last time I walked out of that parliamentary room because I knew the whole thing was gone loo-lah. And we are back there again.”
Just like that last appalling episode with Gormley, Mattie told a disinterested Fleming: "I know there is awful trouble in your party. There's worse trouble in Fine Gael."
This was down to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who “likes to be clever”, telling everybody that taking turf off the people was like taking wine off the French. “You know, sexy kind of talk. It’s nice and it’s emotional and it’s everything else.”
And then the Taoiseach tries to be smart about this on Tuesday and talks about wine having a berry-like aroma with whiskey tasting more like peat.
Mattie decided that "an army of NGOs" (as bad as the Greens) have "indoctrinated" TDs from all sides with their anti-turf and carbon tax agenda
Wine? Whiskey? People have cold tea and sangwiches when out cutting turf and a big feed of bacon and cabbage afterwards, that’s what they do.
Turf cutting “is more important to the people of rural Ireland than wine. Wine is an elite drink,” harrumphed Mattie, who is known to be partial to the occasional port and brandy.
After completing his trip up to the Fianna Fáil party rooms and down memory lane, Mattie decided that “an army of NGOs” (as bad as the Greens) have “indoctrinated” TDs from all sides with their anti-turf and carbon tax agenda.
Only the Rural Independents have been consistent in their opposition. “People are frozen in their homes because they cannot go to the bog.” (For people who live within the Red Cow ring of privilege, he wasn’t referring to people can’t go to the lavatory.)
There’s nothing for it but to call an election, concluded Mattie, slightly miffed at the small turnout in the chamber, particularly from members of Sinn Féin. The Rural Independents resent that party encroaching on their turf, particularly after voting originally for the introduction of carbon tax.
As these are serious times, Mattie concluded by issuing a thinly veiled threat to Micheál Martin about post-election torch light processions.
“What is the Fianna Fáil leader going to do when he goes back to his parishes? Like before, they all went back with pitchforks and the lighted sod of turf. I know what to do with that lit sod of turf and it won’t be up on pitchforks but ’twill be some place else.”
Michael Healy-Rae in the seat next to him battled to keep a straight face. Speaking earlier, he stressed he was not a climate change denier and then castigated the Greens for making “nonsensical, stupid suggestions … If you were a dog with rabies chasing your tail, you wouldn’t be as confused.”
"How are you going to face your own people and tell them that you're backing Eamon Ryan, who is for the birds?"
His colleague Michael Collins from West Cork believes “it is the Green Party’s dream to grab this [carbon tax] money from the rural people for their own little pet projects”, mainly in Dublin.
Voice dripping with disdain, he quivered about “our elderly, our youth, the sick: all perished in their homes this winter thanks to ye supporting this shocking tax disguised in the name of so-called climate change”.
Limerick County’s Richard O’Donoghue got so worked up he mistook Minister of State Joe O’Brien, the Green TD from Dublin Fingal, for Brendan Griffin, the Fine Gael Minister of State from Kerry.
So when he returns to Kerry, what is he going to say to people who ask why they can’t buy a trailer load of turf, he asked a nonplussed-looking O’Brien. “How are you going to face your own people and tell them that you’re backing Eamon Ryan, who is for the birds? And I don’t mean to be personal.”
Joe said nothing.
Sinn Féin clattered out in numbers after the Rural Independents, not in the least bit fazed by accusations flying from all sides that they were jumping on the bandwagon having previously endorsed carbon tax.
“Turf is the straw that will break the camel’s back,” Padraig MacLochlainn gravely opined.
Labour’s Ged Nash conceded carbon pricing had a role to play in addressing climate change. “If we don’t take meaningful action then the Ireland that the Rural Independent Group claim to love will be no more,” he said. “We have a biodiversity crisis and an ecosystem crisis in this country. We see that with our very eyes.”
“Can you see into the future?” sniffed Mattie, dismissively.
“Is it too much to ask that we can have an evidence-based and informed debate on this most crucial of issues in this House?” pleaded Ged.
Going on the evidence, that would be a yes.