Sure what else would you be doing of a Thursday afternoon only listening to 3½ hours of Dáil statements on the National Retrofitting Scheme?
Two hours in and you might well be thinking there’s a lot to be said for drinking during the day, or wondering if you’re hallucinating because one of the TDs is telling the near-empty chamber about retrofitting while quoting lyrics from a song by The Frames.
The deputy is Marc Ó Cathasaigh of the Green Party, who informs the tumbleweed: “I often think, when I’m stood in here or sat in here, I often think of The Frames’ song Star Star. And there’s a lyric in it: ‘Cause I don’t understand these people/ Who say the hill’s too steep/ Well they talk and talk forever/ But they just never climb.’”
Easy to see why those lines might pop into Marc’s head while people hold forth around him in the chamber. It must be a very demoralising experience for the Waterford TD. The Frames have nailed it for him when it comes to opinionated politicians holding back on meaningfully addressing climate change.
Or The Climbing Frames, in this case.
“And the hill is steep. I mean, the targeted emissions reductions that we’ve put in front of us, that’s as steep a hill as anyone has ever faced. This retrofit scheme is part of us climbing that hill. Rather than moving around the Opposition fridge magnets of missed opportunity or whatever else, this is us getting on with the job of work that’s in front of us – an exceptionally important job of work. And one that provides huge opportunities.”
Of course, his party leader has form on the lyrics front. In the early days of the pandemic, after the Government introduced strict social distancing rules, a disgusted Eamon Ryan described scenes of merrymaking in a packed pub in Temple Bar where the crowd was belting out Sweet Caroline.
Reaching out his hand like a preacher, he quavered: “Hands touching hands, touching me, touching you – sweet Jesus, you could not make it up for being out of tune for where we all were.”
Good attempt, Eamon, but you’re no Thomas Pringle. (Same goes for deputy Ó Cathasaigh).
Coolio might have been rapping about Gangsta's Paradise but he could just as easily have been referring to politics around the world – and especially Irish politics
In November 2020, the Independent TD for Donegal managed to sneak rapper Coolio into the Dáil record during a speech on political lobbying.
“The power and the money, the money and the power – minute after minute, hour after hour,” said Thomas in a rather disappointing monotone. “Coolio might have been rapping about Gangsta’s Paradise back in 1995 but he could just as easily have been referring to politics around the world – and especially Irish politics and lobbying.”
Ó Cathasaigh gave us the phrase of the week, though, with his splendid “Opposition fridge magnets of missed opportunity”.
Deputies seeing red
Dáil rows aren’t what they used to be.
A couple of weeks ago, Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin crossed swords with the Taoiseach over the housing crisis. It was a rather tame affair. The usual sniping ensued but then deputy Ó Broin accused the Taoiseach of lying and that is most definitely not allowed.
Cue the obligatory bout of pearl-clutching from Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and a request to the offending deputy to withdraw his disgraceful claim. After some indignant squawking from both sides the Sinn Féin frontbencher backed down.
“I am more than happy to substitute ‘willingly misleading the House’ for ‘lying’ said Eoin, sweetly.
“Thank you,” said the Ceann.
“It’s the same thing, Taoiseach,” shrugged Ó Broin. Which is true. And that was the end of what passes for ructions these days.
This week, Labour leader Alan Kelly introduced the official record to the word “batsh*t”, apologising in advance before he said it. He was merely quoting somebody else.
Nobody batshat an eyelid.
For all his scolding and the occasional suspension of business to allow passions to cool, the Ceann Comhairle takes a more relaxed approach to the rules than his combative predecessor, Seán Barrett. Since ascending the Chair in 2016 (he is into his second term) Ó Fearghaíl has not suspended any TDs from the House. When feelings are high and tempers boil over or when one of the Healy-Raes is hellbent on breaking the sound barrier, he gives a few rattles of the bell and shuts up shop for a short while.
The alternative would be to “name” the offending deputy and invite the Dáil to vote on their suspension for a period of time.
In his five-year tenure, Barrett gave deputies their marching orders on 14 occasions.
The last politician to be given that dubious honour was Clare TD Michael McNamara, who now sits in the Dáil as an Independent but was a Labour member of the Fine Gael-led coalition when he was kicked out in December of 2015. He got into a blazing row with ceann comhairle Barrett over the government curbing debates by guillotining legislation, complaining that it went against what deputies were elected to do.
When he refused to back down, Barrett called a vote to suspend him whereupon the government voted to expel one of its own TDs from the chamber. McNamara was given a three-day suspension.
The runner-up position is held by Social Democrats co-leader and Mother of the Dáil (longest-serving female TD) Róisín Shortall, who got the order of the boot from Barrett a year earlier, in December 2014, after she accused him of shutting down debate on the funding of Irish Water.
In the course of their lengthy row, the ceann comhairle told the fuming Shortall: “You’re a senior deputy, don’t be making a show of yourself.”
That didn’t go down well.
Third place on the podium goes to Mary Lou McDonald, who was ordered out the previous month after protesting that the then tánaiste was not answering her questions (a perennial Opposition complaint and one which Mary Lou, now leader of her party, makes to this day). But on this occasion for some reason, the then deputy leader of Sinn Féin refused to sit down and was duly named by the ceann comhairle and suspended after a vote.
This led to her famous four-hour sit-in in the chamber, one of the most bizarre episodes in recent Dáil history. Mary Lou later denied it was a political stunt, although it did not go unnoticed that her headline-grabbing one-woman occupation of the Dáil chamber happened the day after an intense and highly critical five-hour debate on Sinn Féin’s handling of sexual abuse allegations, particularly in the case of Maíría Cahill.
But back to Ceann Comhairle Ó Fearghaíl and his clean sheet.
By nature, TDs are competitive beasts. Let the race for that first red card begin.
Two politicians celebrated big milestones this week – one of them personal, the other political.
Congratulations to People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Gino Kenny, who finally got to hold his 50th birthday bash on Friday night.
“I turned 50 on January 20th but couldn’t do anything because of the Covid restrictions,” he told us before heading out for Foley’s pub on the corner of Merrion Row, which is just up the way from Leinster House.
Fifty years old? “I think it’s a good age to celebrate. And the main thing is that I’m healthy and I’m here. I feel as good now as I did 10 years ago.”
The Dublin Mid-West TD said he was delighted to have a chance to meet up with all his pals again, many of whom he hasn’t seen in two years. “This is more to celebrate meeting up with people again than it is for my birthday.”
It’s not a lavish do. “A few pints and I’ll be grand,” says Gino, who is delighted that his mother, Mary, will be coming along for the evening. She hasn’t had the best of health recently but her son says she is determined to be there, even though her arm is in a sling.
“She’ll be the belle of the ball.”
Bruton became a big hit on social media two years ago when a shot of him emerging from the water after a swim in Clontarf revealed his toned physique
Meanwhile, Gino was just 10 years old when Richard Bruton first entered the Dáil.
The former Fine Gael minister and deputy leader, who chairs the Parliamentary Party, notched up 40 years in Dáil Éireann on Friday. He won a seat for Dublin North Central on February 18th, 1982 and has represented the constituency, which is now Dublin Bay North, ever since. Having also served as a senator for a year in 1981, he could argue that his Oireachtas unbroken run spans 41 years.
Three-times minister Bruton (he led an unsuccessful leadership heave against Enda Kenny in 2010) became a big hit on social media two years ago when a shot of him emerging from the water after a swim in Clontarf revealed his toned physique. At the age of 67 he suddenly became the Minister for Abs.
Party Leader and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar led the tributes, tweeting his congratulations to Richard for “40 years of service to his constituency and to Ireland and still on top of his game. One the most competent, creative and compassionate politicians I have had the honour to serve with.”
Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, tweeted her admiration for Richard and his “extraordinary work ethic”, adding “I’m still trying to match that six-pack”.