Miriam Lord: Ryan trashes Dáil to make point and Pat can’t cope

As Green Party leader produces rubbish from a bag, Gallagher is beside himself

The Green Party at the launch of its deposit refund proposal. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The Green Party at the launch of its deposit refund proposal. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Eamon Ryan pulled a proper stunt in the Dáil on Wednesday.

It was far superior to the one pulled the day before by the Taoiseach, who wore novelty socks to impress his new pal, the prime minister of Canada, while drawing favourable attention to himself. Leo Varadkar, having noted how Justin Trudeau gets acres of soft publicity from flashing his customised ankles, shamelessly got in on the act.

The Green Party leader’s wheeze was also a brazen publicity grab, but he did it with no thought to himself. No, Ryan didn’t act up to burnish his image; he did it for the greater good.

It had nothing to do with socks, although dirty ones were mentioned in passing. The Leas Cheann Comhairle, horrified, tried to stop him.

By the time Ryan’s turn came at Leaders’ Questions, there was a sleepy atmosphere in the chamber.

He wanted to talk about waste. As he described rummaging the night before in a cupboard at home, deputies noticed he was holding a cloth bag decorated with his party’s sunflower logo.

The bag was bulging with the dry rubbish the Ryan family throw in this cupboard before sorting it for the bins. When Pater Ryan opened the doors “an avalanche of stuff” toppled out.

Nothing for it but to gather up the detritus and bring it straight into the Dáil for an episode of Eamon’s Show and Tell.

Deputies are regularly accused of talking rubbish in the chamber, so it would do them no harm to see what it actually is.

Ryan lifted his little cotton tote bag and delved in.

There was a crunchy, crinkly sound of plastic being squeezed.

Across the aisle, Social Democrat Róisín Shortall made a grab for her glasses and shoved them on, dying to see what would emerge from Eamon’s lucky dip.

First out was a clear box, which might once have contained a salad, or a sandwich, or a portion of falafel. Hard to tell, for it was very clean, as one might expect from the man who leads the Green Party.

“Deputy, we are in the Houses of Parliament on national television,” lamented Can’t Cope, as if Eamon had just slapped a dead rat on to the bench

“We are being drowned in terms of plastic,” cried Eamon, fishing out a receptacle with orange plastic netting around it. Maybe for nectarines, which are in season.

Then in again for another rummage.

“Is it his dirty socks?” roared Mattie McGrath, fascinated.

“Is it green tea bags?” wondered Seán Fleming of Fianna Fáil.

Out came a slightly battered water bottle.

The Leas Cheann Comhairle, Pat “The Cope” Gallagher, recoiled in horror. “Ah deputy,” he groaned, utterly appalled.

He started belting lumps out of the bell.

A dead rat

Bernard Durkan of Fine Gael, a stickler for parliamentary propriety, was beside himself.

“Ignore him! Ignore him!” he told the bilious Leas Cheann Comhairle, henceforth to be known as Pat “Can’t Cope” Gallagher.

A used disposable coffee cup was produced from the cotton bag.

“Deputy, we are in the Houses of Parliament on national television,” lamented Can’t Cope, as if Eamon had just slapped a dead rat on to the bench.

“Polypropylene,” intoned Eamon.

“That’s not allowed.”

“Polyethylene . . . ”

“Advertisements are not allowed in the House,” wailed Can’t Cope, inexplicably, having a complete fit of the vapours.

Mattie kept bellowing about dirty socks.

Talk dirty to us some more, Eamon.

“Polystyrene . . . ”

The Leas Cheann Comhairle was scandalised.

Eamon waved the bottle about. Then the cup. Provocatively.

“We’ll have to move on to Questions on Promised Legislation,” whimpered Can’t Cope, petrified about what abomination he might yet be forced to see.

The Green Party leader stood his ground. He wanted to ask his question. “Why can’t I ask my question?”

Can’t Cope spluttered something about “points of order”. Eventually, he conceded that Eamon was entitled to ask his question.

“But I ask you to remove that from the desk.”

Had we missed something? Did we miss the bit where Eamon took the large turd from his eco-bag and put it on display?

The TDs were highly entertained, wise-cracking for all they were worth at Ryan, who was trying to say something very serious about the huge threat these plastics pose to the environment.

He left the stuff on the desk.

“Recycle it!” whooped Fleming, as Mattie kept banging on about dirty socks.

Can’t Cope, a beaten man, called for dignity in the house. The door to his right opened, and he jumped, his nerves obviously in shreds following his brush with promiscuous plastic. He pointed to the door. Danny Healy-Rae, minding his own business, was ambling through it.

“Shush, Deputy Paddy McHugh!” hissed the Leas Cheann Comhairle.

There is no Paddy McHugh in the Dáil.

Under heavy pressure from Can’t Cope, who was also under heavy pressure, Ryan protested that he was acting in a dignified fashion.

Timmy Dooley of Fianna Fáil taunted him: “Straight out of the Mattie McGrath school of politics.”

“Ah here,” sniggered Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, looking at the little pile of refuse on Ryan’s ledge. “It’s Make and Do. It’s bad enough that the place is full of junior infants today but it’s like an art and crafts class now.”

The very reasonable Ryan had to continue to insist he was acting with dignity.

“Pay by weight!” chuckled Mattie.

Eventually the TDs calmed down.

“We are drowning in plastic,” said Eamon again, rather sadly. He went on to say how the use of plastic has increased 25-fold “in my lifetime”.

These led to another volley of taunts from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

“Please, give him an opportunity,” pleaded Can’t Cope, now inured to the sight of naked plastic on show in the chamber.

Dumping grounds

“Some 150 million tons of that plastic is now in our seas. We are adding a dump truck every minute. We have to stop this, we have cut out the waste. It is not easy. It takes attention . . . That’s why I make this point, a Leas Cheann Comhairle,” said Eamon, explaining his use of props.

The Greens have a Waste Reduction Bill ready to go and they want the Dáil to pass it.

Among other things, it proposes the introduction of a return deposit of 10 cent on bottles and containers and a ban on non-recyclable cups. This mean householders, rather than seeing these bottles go out to be dumped, can see them saved, recycled and used again.

Eamon returned to his stash and waved his cup about again and crooned “Bioplastic bases”.

Pat Can’t Cope nearly fainted.

“Ah, you had agreed to remove the stuff,” he sighed.

“I don’t think you should be acting in that fashion.”

But all the Greens want is support for their Bill. Might some bigger party take the lead and push it for them?

“Yes!” said Micheál Martin, vigorously nodding Fianna Fáil’s head.

With enough support in the Dáil, Eamon feels his non-partisan legislation could carry the day.

After all, it is all about protecting the environment for future generations. What’s not to like? Furthermore, the French are moving ahead and already implementing these proposals.

Leo Varadkar listened with interest. He didn’t laugh at Eamon and he didn’t join in the joshing.

He was probably thinking: What would Justin do? What would Emmanuel do?

The Taoiseach said his Government was open to any ideas that can reduce waste and protect our environment.

Eamon left looking considerably more optimistic than when he entered. Pat Can’t Cope, we understand, is undergoing post-stunt counselling.