Miriam Lord: Little love in a cold climate for Martin and Varadkar
There’s a Valentine’s card for the Taoiseach but Micheál leaves his colleagues feeling unloved
There will be no Valentine’s card for the Taoiseach from Micheál Martin this year. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
The leader of Fianna Fáil broke the news to a near-deserted chamber. “I have some, but not for anybody in this House.”
At least the heartbroken were allowed the dignity of crying unobserved in their private offices. But as Micheál Martin uttered his cruel words on the eve of Valentine’s Day, the very walls of Leinster House shook with the howls of anguished Fianna Fáil TDs as they hurled gaudy trinkets of platonic affection into the bin.
Éamon Ó Cuív, Mark MacSharry, John McGuinness to name but a few.
How could Micheál, their great leader – the man they would follow to the end of the Earth if only to make sure he jumped off – be so heartless as to publicly spurn them in the Dáil?
For the Fianna Fáil leader was talking about the destination of his Valentine’s cards this year – none of them destined for parliamentary party colleagues.
This topical issue was raised by Richard Boyd-Barrett after he had finished pleading with Leo Varadkar to raise the income threshold for people who want to stay on the social housing list.
“Lastly, I just want to say, Taoiseach, I have a Valentine card for you. In fact, I have a lot of them,” announced the People Before Profit TD, hastily adding: “They’re not to profess my undying love for you, they are from schoolchildren who were outside the Dáil today.”
He had a big sheaf of them, glorious with every shade of crayon and marker and all wishing Leo a happy St Valentine’s Day while also asking him to take emergency action to address the threat of climate change, “something those kids feel you are not doing”. Richard promised he would hand over the cards at the end of the session.
Buckets of them
Leo remained unmoved, writing his notes, head down. Then again as a young, albeit metabolically challenged, Taoiseach he probably gets buckets of them.
The Ceann Comhairle then turned to the Fianna Fáil leader. “Do you have any Valentine cards, Deputy Martin?”
Leo laid down his pen briefly and sat back with a smile to hear the answer from his confidence-and-supply partner.
Micheál rose slowly, looking a little sheepish. “I have some, eh, but, but . . . not for anybody in this House,” he mumbled, before laughing very loudly to himself.
The Taoiseach looked neither surprised nor disappointed as he reapplied himself to his notes.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty decided to explain why the Fianna Fáil leader is not posting any Valentine felicitations to party colleagues.
“They don’t need a card to profess their undying love to each other. That’s already been done on many occasions,” he smirked. (Like at their parliamentary party meeting the previous night, for example, when fond expressions of collegial closeness and compatibility were exchanged between TDs in a warmly poisonous atmosphere of mutual aggravation.)
Micheál acknowledged Pearse’s reference to his loved-up Soldiers of Destiny. Smiling through gritted teeth, he gave a little shudder. “Ooh, I tell ya.” he muttered darkly. “Yeah.”
Leo wasn’t feeling the love either.
“I do hope that Deputy Boyd Barrett told the people who gave him the Valentine’s card the extent to which he objects to a carbon charge, and why it wouldn’t be possible to meet those targets without a carbon charge that drives changes in the behaviour of people and businesses.”
That climate change-related reply should go down well with the pupils from the John Scottus national school, who gave the cards they made for the Taoiseach to Boyd-Barrett when he came out to meet them, and the pupils from Educate Together Schools from all over Dublin, who came to the gates of parliament to ask their politicians to take better care of their planet.
Head on a plate
Inside the gates proceedings in the Dáil were exceedingly dull. Perhaps this was because everyone was holding their breath and waiting for Sinn Féin’s latest Notion of No Confidence to play out next week. Except they were not.
This time the party is calling for Simon Harris’s head on a plate, although such is the fondness for demanding political scalps they’ve probably run out of plates at this stage.
Doherty was in charge of the head-calling on this occasion because Mary Lou McDonald was in England appearing on current affairs TV programmes explaining Sinn Féin’s take on Brexit.
She wasn’t the only Irish political figure in the limelight across the water. In the morning former taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared before a House of Commons committee to give the benefit of his wisdom on the impending breakup between the UK and the EU.
He was very well received in the Betty Boothroyd Room in Westminster, and took the opportunity to remind his hosts that in his heyday he addressed a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament.
And a few hours later he was knocking on doors in Phibsborough and Drumcondra doing his usual rounds. But he didn’t tell them that.
Meanwhile, back in his old Dáil stomping ground Doherty repeated that it was time for Harris to go and then, with the rest of the Opposition, he got stuck into an early-evening interrogation of Harris which lasted for 80 minutes.
This leaves the actual no-confidence debate still to come as something of a non-event for most observers, if not for the Minister for Health, who is looking exhausted and won’t relish another stint having to answer questions about how the cost of the national children’s hospital grew faster than Jack’s beanstalk under the oblivious noses of Government bean-counters.
But he got through this latest grilling without much trouble and with a minimum of shouting from the Opposition. Unless damaging information emerges in the interim, Harris, along with Paschal Donohoe, his partner in crime from the Department of Finance, are through the gap and out of trouble.
Earlier in the day, relying upon recent remarks by the former director of the HSE to bolster his case for the defenestration of Harris didn’t help Doherty’s cause. The Taoiseach was quick to point this out.
It was “curious” to hear Sinn Féin quoting Tony O’Brien as part of its attack on the Minister for Health when the party’s last motion of no confidence, if he remembered correctly, was against the same Mr O’Brien.
Doherty corrected the Taoiseach. The last person Sinn Féin declared unfit to hold office was Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing, he said.