Miriam Lord: Normal service resumes in the Groundhog Dáil

Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald stuck in monotonous and unpleasant loop

Groundhog Dáil. A tale of two people in a national parliament stuck in a monotonous and unpleasant loop, forced to relive the same reality day after day after accursed day.

Will it ever stop? Some might think it’s just a fantasy; a scorching redemption story for our times which would probably translate very well into a successful movie script. Except this is no fanciful yarn.

It’s Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald locked in a daily cycle of repetitive and increasingly bitter argument from which neither appears capable of escaping.

And in Groundhog Dáil, there is no sign of redemption on the horizon.

There was a let-up on Tuesday when the continuously clashing couple missed Leaders' Questions with Fianna Fáil Minister Michael McGrath standing in for the Taoiseach and Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty doing likewise for his party leader.

Boring versus Booming. McGrath militantly milk and water and Doherty more noise than deliberate niggle. They engaged vigorously over a familiar bone of contention (housing) yet the dynamic was different. No love lost for sure, but their encounter lacked the undercurrent of hostility and contempt which now characterises exchanges between the Taoiseach and the leader of the main Opposition party.

On Wednesday normal service resumed in the Groundhog Dáil. Getting out on day release from combat duty only served to sharpen the needle between the two main protagonists.

Mary Lou opened as usual with the housing crisis and they immediately went back to tearing up the same old ground using the same old attack clichés.

Where the housing crisis is concerned, their private circular argument is generating more heat than light, going nowhere and achieving nothing. (Apart from feeding the constantly refreshing menu of Mary Lou’s punchy social media video clips.)

On this most crucial public issue, the country’s two main leaders have rendered Leaders’ Questions pointless. But who is to blame?

Mary Lou for deliberately baiting the Taoiseach with blatantly populist rhetoric or Micheál for unfailingly falling for it?

Perhaps they should heed the advice of Bertie Ahern back in the day: "I don't think it helps people to be throwing white elephants and red herrings at each other."

Or in the case of the Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leader, opening cupboards and flinging skeletons. Both sides, with arguable degrees of justification, plead provocation – Mary Lou says he won’t answer questions and Micheál says she’s putting political spin above a housing emergency.

But in this increasingly tiresome double-act one thing is sure: there’s a pair of them in it.

On this occasion Deputy McDonald brought up the long-running O’Devaney Gardens project in Dublin’s inner city, alleging that a developer is threatening to sell the houses to a vulture fund if the Government doesn’t pay an inflated price for them. She threw in all the trigger words. “Cuckoo funds...Hoovering up family homes...sweetheart tax deals...Fianna Fáil tent...the party of the brown envelope...molly-coddling developer friends...ordinary homeowners and renters skinned...”

He batted back with what he repeatedly says is his firmly held view: “Housing is the single most urgent and important social issue facing our country at this point in time.”

Then he outlined the Government’s Housing for All Strategy in detail, again, right down to it being “unprecedented in scale and investment”.

‘Brass neck’

That cut no ice with Mary Lou, who interrupted the Taoiseach’s reply on the O’Devaney Gardens issue with a wide-eyed reaction: “Wow! The brass neck.”

Along with party colleagues, she continued interjecting for the remainder of his response. The Sinn Féin leader used her follow-up question to follow through on her assertion that Fianna Fáil is in cahoots with its developer “buddies” and facilitating tax deals for them “to the detriment of a generation locked out of home ownership”.

Then Mary Lou unleashed the “c” word, excusing herself from having to actually stand up her charge of corruption with her opening words. “I don’t have the scope to recount the corruption,” she conveniently began, “the corrupted nature of your relationship with the people that I refer to.”

And after informing the Taoiseach “you’re so myopic and limited in your view” she triumphantly rounded off her attack by telling him: “This is happening on YOUR watch. Those, my friend, are the facts.”

He is not her friend. And going by the furious response, she is definitely not his.

“You used the word corrupt there,” said Micheál quietly.

“Yes,” nodded Mary Lou.

“You are the last party to talk to anybody about corruption because your party corrupted public life...”

“Ansbacher,” deadpanned the Sinn Féin leader.

“...in this republic...”

“Galway,” she drawled, taking a sip of water.

“...for well on 40 years to a far greater degree than any other party in this country.”

Things deteriorated from there.

The Taoiseach was absolutely seething.

As Mary Lou smiled sweetly, he fumed: “You corrupted the moral code of our country and our society by the murder and mayhem that you perpetrated and that you still endorse, deputy. You still endorse it, you still support the narrative of murder and mayhem.”

‘Pathetic’

Across the floor, flanked by a full turnout of an unusually muted parliamentary party, Deputy McDonald shook her head.

“And you also support the undermining of women that were raped by IRA volunteers and your party covered it up.”

“Pathetic,” sighed the party leader as her indignant colleagues began to find their voices again. “Go ’way out of that.”

“Do not come into this House, lead with your chin, telling this party that we were corrupt. We had faults and flaws, no doubt about it, but we faced up to it...you consistently try and rewrite the narrative, bury the truth about the level of corruption that your party engaged in.”

And the more annoyed the Taoiseach became, the more Mary Lou repeated “you are pathetic, pathetic” while waving him away with little dismissive flaps of the hand.

As Sinn Féin demanded answers on investment funds, Micheál leaned forward, eyes narrowed and demanded answers from Mary Lou. “You need to start answering some questions now.”

“I will when I’m in your seat,” she retorted. “With pleasure.”

The Taoiseach pressed on. “How are you going to double housing output?”

All he got was more dismissive waves as Aengus Ó Snodaigh berated him for not answering his leader’s questions.

As the latest unedifying episode of Groundhog Dáil stumbled to a bad tempered close, deputies from other parties watched on, leaving the two parties to their never-ending squabble.

Richard Boyd Barrett, arms clasped across his chest, rocked back and forth, shaking his head.

Finally, mercifully, the Ceann Comhairle called on the Labour leader to deliver some welcome light relief.

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