Miriam Lord: Leo calls for counsel as swing story refuses to die

There was a distracted air about the benches as Taoiseach returned from his travels

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, pictured at the EU summit in Brussels this week, arrived home to meet Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey. Photograph: Kenzo Triouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, pictured at the EU summit in Brussels this week, arrived home to meet Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey. Photograph: Kenzo Triouillard/AFP/Getty Images

 

We are close to exiting the traditional post-election Humbled Phase.

Which is a relief, because it can get very tiresome very quickly.

The winners are humbled by the faith shown in them.

The losers are humbled by the support they received.

The canvassers are humbled by the doorsteps.

And the Government has been humbled by a swing.

This last one is a different class of humbling, unrelated to the count centre niceties, and may take some time to pass. Fine Gael hasn’t been taking its unwelcome swing related botheration at all well.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was back in the Dáil for Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday following a quick spin to Brussels for an EU summit. TDs in the sparsely populated chamber still looked a bit tired after their election exertions. The storm over Government backbencher Maria Bailey’s decision to launch a personal injury case after she fell off a swing was still quietly rumbling in the background. People around Leinster House could talk about little else.

There was a distracted air about the benches.

The three main items on the schedule – Leaders’ Questions, Questions on Promised Legislation (when TDs get to ask the Taoiseach about all sorts of things) and Taoiseach’s Questions (to do with his own department and duties) – were done and dusted in well under an hour.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin wanted to know what Leo had to say about comments made on Tuesday by former Army Rangers chief, Comdt Cathal Berry, who went on the public record to explain why he recently left the job he loves because he can’t bear to see the Defence Forces “dismantled and demoralised” by “disastrous” Government policy.

“This level of criticism is unprecedented,” said Micheál, giving chapter and verse on “the depth of anger, frustration, despair and sense of betrayal within our military families and communities”.

Is the Taoiseach ashamed of this? What is he going to do about it?

Leo was aware of what Comdt Berry said.

“It was a stinging criticism and sometimes Government needs to hear criticism and sometimes Government needs to take it on board. And I am very much aware of the anger among Defence Forces families and Defence Forces members about the current situation.”

In mitigation, he said that recruitment “is actually going very well”. There’s a slight problem though “in that more people are leaving than are coming in”.

A lot of money was being invested in the Defence Forces, he pointed out. But he said members had to be tied into the public sector pay agreement otherwise there would be a knock-on effect.

A 2 per cent increase would cost € 400 million a year, argued the Taoiseach and that’s more than the extra money needed to be found for broadband or the children’s hospital.

“And it’s not a once-off, it’s recurring and I have to bear that in mind too.”

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen pointed across the floor towards the Minister for Finance.

“Magic money,” he cried. “Ask Freddie Mercury over there.”

Freddie Mercury? Paschal Dimplehoe?

This is Barry’s new name for Paschal. Fianna Fail’s public expenditure spokesman wonders where all the money materialised for these capital overspends when it’s not apparently coming from extra taxes, new borrowings or out of the current budget. Barry thinks it’s like the Queen song “It’s a kind of magic”.

Our name is down on the waiting list for when David Kennedy SC goes on a field mission to examine the offending swing in the Dean Hotel. All hands on rope!

Gangland crime and the recent murders on Dublin’s northside were brought up by Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane. People in communities in Dublin and other parts of the country are living in fear because of the deadly criminal feuds going on around them.

The Taoiseach talked of measures being taken by the gardaí to combat this menace and mentioned extra funding and increasing Garda numbers. He said the Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Justice, had been in touch with the Garda Commissioner about the situation and would be visiting the Darndale and Coolock area.

“I will do the same as soon as I can find a little time,” promised Leo.

This should be of some comfort to these communities involved. Although some might wonder if they haven’t suffered enough.

Simple response

Independent TD for Galway, Catherine Connolly tried to get a simple response from him on the report of a review panel looking into instances of serious child sexual abuse in a number of foster homes. She asked about the timing of its publication, why the report did not come to the Dáil for discussion and“ongoing issues in relation to child protection”.

With touching optimism, Catherine asked the Taoiseach if “you could answer me, without jargon, without a reply from whoever writes the speeches and tell me in the first instance, what is your response to that summary report?”

Leo tried, to be fair to him. By his second reply, he didn’t even bother, holding out a typed response with both hands and beginning his reply with “I am advised that. . .”

After speedy replies to Mattie McGrath’s question about the high cost of nursing home care in rural areas under the Fair Deal scheme, Leaders’ Questions ended in record time.

Everything rattled along quickly, with a few extra adjournments along the way. It was as if TDs were preoccupied with some other matter. Perhaps they had joined in the search for a senior counsel. The Government had netted another one by teatime for another inquiry. To “establish all the facts”.

Our name is down on the waiting list for when David Kennedy SC goes on a field mission to examine the offending swing in the Dean Hotel. All hands on rope! We volunteer to hold the bottles.

This should take the heat off Fine Gael for the time being. Shouldn’t it?

The party released a terse statement after the Taoiseach met his Sultana of Swing in the afternoon.

“In relation to a civil case which Deputy Bailey is withdrawing from the courts, Fine Gael is undertaking an internal review to establish all facts. The review will be undertaken by David Kennedy, Senior Counsel. Deputy Maria Bailey has agreed to participate fully with this review.”

This is a major breakthrough as previously the TD said the only person who could test her two bottles theory and the satin finish of the wooden swing seat was a judge. And the only forum was the Four Courts.

“Fine Gael will not be making any further comment at this time.”

House private.

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