Miriam Lord: Leo claims he never beat anyone, and then wheels out the Brexit heavy artillery

Bríd Smith berates the Taoiseach’s ‘hard neck’, and tells him to stop ‘all the macho shaping up to the nurses’

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that if he concedes to nurses, and if a hard Brexit happens, he could end up having to announce job losses in the coming months. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

‘I am not interested in beating anyone with sticks,” declared Leo “Six Nurses” Varadkar. You won’t find his dabs on any incriminating cudgels. He’s more your behind the scenes with a stiletto type of guy.

Leo didn’t get to be leader of one of the country’s biggest political parties and Taoiseach before his 40th birthday by going around beating people with sticks. You get others to own that particular metaphor, and concentrate on the photo ops while your scenes-of-crime team are steam-cleaning the narrative.

“I didn’t hit no-one with no stick,” – Varadkar. Once upon a time a denial from a Taoiseach in the national parliament to do with engaging in acts of violence involving weapons would have been big news. But Brexit has changed all that.

Nothing makes much sense these days. When the Dáil returned on Tuesday after the weekend recess, business in Leinster House was conducted with an unavoidable eye on the Brexit tomfoolery unwinding in Westminster. Yet in Dublin there was the serious issue of a national nurses’ strike on the political agenda – the first in 20 years and only the second in 100 years.

Just a day to go until it happens, pointed out Opposition leaders, unless the Government can do something to stop it.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith were very concerned about the situation. The Taoiseach would have to step in to avert the strike.

Smith pointed out to Varadkar that he earned far more than a nurse. “You’re worth six nurses – or are you? I think six nurses are worth a helluva lot more.”

He’s some man for one, sorry, six nurses.

Dig out

As it turns out the Taoiseach has great time and respect for the nursing profession [he being a medical man himself from a family steeped in the medical tradition] and he would love to help the nurses and midwives get what they want. But he can’t.

Because if he helps them he will have to give a dig out to everyone else in the public service, and that just isn’t possible.

Micheál reminded him that when the guards were kicking up a couple of years ago the Labour Court came up with a pay recommendation which the Government accepted. The Fianna Fáil leader is a bit suspicious about this. He doesn’t think the Labour Court plucked its recommendation out of “thin air”, but that it got “a nod” from “on high”.

If the Government really wanted to do something about the long-standing complaints from nurses, something could be done. “There are ways and mechanisms, creative ways, through which these issues can be dealt with.”

Leo isn’t a fan of what was done for An Garda Síochána. The fallout of that deal has had consequences for other workers in the public service, and led to huge additional costs for the taxpayer. (Huge additional costs are only tolerated when the country has the builders in on big projects).

When Mary Lou followed up on the same subject, the Taoiseach decided to roll out the heavy artillery – the Brexit argument, designed to blow away all before it.

She urged him to stop sitting on the sidelines and sort out the situation. All very fine, countered Leo, but he had to think of the coming weeks and the possible arrival of a disorderly Brexit. If that happened Ireland would need every penny to combat the problems this would bring.

Bread-buying

“I don’t know where we will be as a country in 10 or 12 weeks’ time,” he said, in a stunning reversal of his policy not to say anything about the consequences of Brexit which might upset the populace and spark an orgy of bread-buying which would put the Great Sliced Pan wars of 2018 in the ha’penny place. He could be combating job losses on all fronts, and looking for money “to save jobs”.So don’t be hitting his Government or its brave Taoiseach with the mewling Brexit baby in his arms.

“Don’t waste a good crisis,” was Ruth Coppinger’s conclusion.

Mary Lou pointed out the Government doesn’t seem to have any problem throwing money at building the most expensive children’s hospital in the world.

The Taoiseach was glad she made this point. It isn’t true, he said, smugly, in the interests of accuracy. The most expensive children’s hospital in the world is in Denmark, and it is costing a good few billions more than the one in Dublin. (He didn’t go into the size of or number of beds in the other hospital, which is apparently much bigger than the Irish project).

“So our’s will be the second most expensive,” chortled Aengus Ó Snodaigh as Richard Boyd Barrett admired the Taoiseach’s researchers for digging up the Danish figures.

Leo was a bit miffed. He was correcting a factual error. “I do not think that correcting a factual inaccuracy should cause such laughter and controversy,” he sulked.

‘Hard neck’

Yet it was his use of the Brexit situation to explain why the nurses’ claim could not be considered now which angered the Opposition the most.

Bríd Smith berated the Taoiseach’s “hard neck”, and told him to stop “all the macho shaping up to the nurses”. And to think, she said, his salary would pay the salary of six nurses.

Nothing any of them could say would change Leo’s view of the strike, which he said would have to be resolved through the normal industrial relations channels.

He told Bríd what he had just told Mary Lou: “You’re a populist!”

He said it was easy for them to side with the nurses – or any other group in society pressing a pay claim – but he was in “a different position”. In fact her support was “meaningless” because she “supported everyone”. As Taoiseach he doesn’t have that luxury.

“You’re a populist in Davos,” she countered. The Taoiseach and “his hard-nosed macho Government” had no problem supporting the billionaire heavy-hitters who go there every year.

“Don’t be a hypocrite and use Brexit as a stick to beat the nurses with,” said the PBP Deputy contemptuously.

“I’m not interested in beating anyone with sticks,” replied Leo “Six Nurses”.

It could have been worse. Former footballer Paul Gascoigne famously had a friend called Jimmy “five bellies”.

The Brexit continues.

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