Miriam Lord: Leo’s nonchalance and supply agreement with Dara nears an end

Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader bicker over double-jobbing TD with eye on election

Dara Murphy: the former TD for Cork North central ‘formally’ resigned two weeks ago, but was gone in spirit  long before that. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Dara Murphy: the former TD for Cork North central ‘formally’ resigned two weeks ago, but was gone in spirit long before that. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Two major Government arrangements are falling apart at the seams.

One negotiated in the full glare of publicity, the other negotiated in the shadows.

The confidence and supply agreement is disintegrating as it nears the end of its natural life. Fianna Fáil’s undertaking to keep Fine Gael in power is a deal with built-in obsolescence.

A break-up was always on the cards. And things are getting dirty between both sides now that it’s starting to happen.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty compared the two party leaders to squabbling children. He wasn’t wrong.

Leo Varadkar’s nonchalance and supply agreement with Dara Murphy – the one where the Taoiseach looks the other way while his double-jobbing TD supplies a Dáil vote – is similarly in bits. What looks suspiciously like the squaring-off of an absentee deputy to retain his vital Government vote in a tight numbers situation is causing considerable pre-election embarrassment to Fine Gael.

That little understanding wasn’t designed for public consumption. But it’s shot to infamy and badly bitten Varadkar’s administration. This was never supposed to happen.

The Fianna Fáil leader knows his rival for the Taoiseach’s job next year has been damaged by this episode of legitimate brazenness involving a sitting TD collecting full allowances and expenses while working a full-time job in Europe with the express blessing of his boss and party leader.

The Taoiseach retaliated with fresh misdemeanors committed by Fianna Fáil TDs in the Dáil voting shambles

So Micheál Martin revisited the subject again at the start of the Dáil week with the aid of an obscure line from the Ethics in Public Office Act dug up for him over the weekend by a worker bee. He was asking after the former TD for Cork North central, as he pointedly put it, “formally” resigned two weeks ago.

He was gone in spirit long before that.

Not to be outdone, the Taoiseach retaliated with fresh misdemeanors committed by Fianna Fáil TDs in the Dáil voting shambles, doing his best to open up a new front in the War of the Buttons. Somebody (anything Fianna Fáil worker bees can do, Fine Gael ones can do better) went back through video footage from the Dáil chamber to find more examples of FF TDs pressing colleagues’ voting buttons to pass on to the press.

Not only that, charged Leo, but there is a Fianna Fáil Senator (Lorraine Clifford-Lee) “who still hasn’t apologised for some of the remarks” she made nearly a decade ago on Twitter. And another Senator (Keith Swanick) featured recently on RTÉ’s Prime Time for failing to vote in three-quarters of the voting days he was recorded as present.

“They aren’t double-jobbing,” the Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger reminded him.

But the Taoiseach will brook no criticism of his former man in Cork North Central unless he is allowed to hit back with his own criticisms of errant Fianna Fáilers caught indulging in the widespread practice of voting for colleagues who couldn’t be bothered moving the short distance to their assigned seats to press a button.

He isn’t comparing like with like, but he is making noise and exuding indignation, and it gets him out of the awkward Dara situation.

For his latest Murphy intervention, Micheál seized upon Leo’s RTÉ radio interview on Saturday morning when he said he would find a way to have an independent investigation into his former TD’s performance as a Dáil deputy.

“Under sections 9(3) and 9(4) of the Ethics in Public Office Act, there is a facility whereby the former deputy could refer himself to the Members’ Interests committee,” said the Fianna Fáil leader, as if he knew this all along.

To be fair, this must be very confusing for politicians in general who refer to themselves all the time

“Given all you have said on this subject over the last while, I want to ask you, have you actually asked your former colleague to refer himself to the Members’ Interests committee under that legislation and if not, will you so do?”

Turn himself in, as it were. How exciting.

The Taoiseach indicated he is aware of the provision allowing Dara Murphy to “refer himself”. So, demanded the Fianna Fáil leader, did he ask his former TD to do it?

To be fair, this must be very confusing for politicians in general who refer to themselves all the time, which is not the same thing as referring themselves to something.

“I am aware that provision exists” repeated the Taoiseach “and we had some discussions with him about it.”

Micheál was confused. “Sorry, did you ask him?”

With the utmost clarity, Leo replied: “I’ll come back to you on that.”

Barry Cowen kept repeating: “He didn’t ask. He didn’t ask.”

Repeated attempts for a straight answer - “Did you ask him or did you not? You are aware of the provision. Have you asked him to avail of the mechanism?” - finally yielded a positive reply of sorts.

“I and my advisers have discussed with former Deputy, Dara Murphy, a number of options as to how an inquiry can be carried out. That is one of the options we have discussed with him and it is something that is still a work in progress.”

Still a work in progress. Translation: “Will you refer himself, Dara”. “Go boil your head, Leo.”

But make no mistake, the Taoiseach believes “there should be an inquiry” and the former TD “has already agreed that he will submit to an inquiry and I believe he should pay back any expenses if the inquiry finds against him.”

Which it can’t, because he has done nothing wrong.

It’s like when former TD and senator Ivor Callely was claiming mileage from his “home” in West Cork when he also lived in Clontarf, Dublin. Shameless, but totally within the rules and the system. Ivor was excoriated by his fellow politicians in an Oireachtas committee and denounced in the media but the courts found he was totally within his rights.

Dara Murphy is the man they couldn’t investigate. Because they can’t.

In the meantime, the Taoiseach will blame the other side for being just as bad.

I think we’re unfortunately going to be subject to a lot of this until the general election

The TDs and senators he named, are they going to be ratified as Fianna Fáil candidates in the next general election, when there is still a cloud of suspicion over them when they are still under investigation. Will you, sir, answer that straight question?

Micheál just smirked at him.

“Perhaps you may want to come back and comment on that.”

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty was fed up with the bickering. “I think we’re unfortunately going to be subject to a lot of this until the general election. I have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old at home and I think if they behaved the way the two leaders in the House did I would take them into a corner and have a good talking to them.”

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