Miriam Lord: Silence is the golden rule for Brexit

Martin, McDonald wore green for Leaders’ Questions but Leo put on his smartest suit for Davos

Mary Lou McDonald:  she said the National Children’s Hospital was “at best a fiasco; at worst an example of gross incompetence”

Mary Lou McDonald: she said the National Children’s Hospital was “at best a fiasco; at worst an example of gross incompetence”

 

The Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance were out through the gap and Davos bound by lunchtime, probably breathing a sigh of relief that they managed to escape Leinster House without a single mention of Brexit to disrupt their pre-flight composure.

Even though Leo Varadkar laid the groundwork for the Opposition’s vow of silence by updating party leaders on the current position the night before, the temptation to force the Taoiseach to admit in the Dáil that the Brexcrement will hit the fan in the event of a no-deal crashout must have been tantalising for Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald.

Particularly when the political day began with a Brexcrutiating interview on Morning Ireland between the Minister for Agriculture and broadcaster Audrey Carville.

With his neat new Davos haircut, navy suit and navy jumper, the Minister for Finance looked like he’d stepped from the pages of a back-to-school catalogue

She went after Michael Creed like a hungry Jack Russell with a grudge, chasing one simple question and then clamping her jaws on his ankle in the hope of getting an answer.

Carville asked Creed a dozen times if a no-deal Brexit means a hard border in Ireland.

Of course it does. But in Government Buildings the answer is a very firm: “That is not for us to say.” And they aren’t saying it, no matter who applies the thumbscrews.

Hence the previous evening’s meeting with the party leaders to get them on message

Canny operator

The Minister for Agriculture may be the quiet man of Varadkar’s administration, but he was first elected to the Dáil for Cork North West 30 years ago, and, barring a brief hiatus when he lost his seat, has been a Fine Gael front bench spokesman in a variety of portfolios since then. He’s been around the political block and is a canny operator.

Creed ducked and dived, squirmed, sidestepped and shimmied around the hard border question until the time ran out. He knew that the listeners knew that he knew he was avoiding the answer, but kept on going because he was Brextemporising for Ireland, and it had to be done.

Why, exactly, is a complication too far for most of us.

Perhaps mindful of the public’s puzzlement over why their Government is ignoring the inescapable consequence of a no-deal Brexit (nothing to do with us, all down to the UK), Ministers and advisers were quietly talking to political journalists on Wednesday, and explaining why this delicate Brexerise must be adhered to for now.

It’s why the green jerseys were fished out for Leaders’ Questions by Martin and McDonald, who gave Brexit a wide berth.

Smartest suits

The Taoiseach was wearing one of his smartest suits – the grey one – for his impending Davos trip. Paschal Donohoe, getting a lift there with Leo, rambled into the chamber midway through the session, all ready to go. It’s very cold in that part of Europe at this time of year, so he was wearing a sensible V-neck sweater over his shirt and tie.

With his neat new Davos haircut, navy suit and navy jumper, the Minister for Finance looked like he’d stepped from the pages of a back-to-school catalogue.

As soon as questions were over, Leo skidaddled. Paschal left a short while after.

With any luck the pair of them will have missed Bono by the time they got to Switzerland.

But before any of that there were plenty of issues to be addressed in the Dáil. Brexit, with its potential to adversely impact on so many different areas of Irish life, is a matter of such concern that it can crowd other issues and divert attention from them.

Mary Lou, like many others listening to the Taoiseach’s 'value' mantra, was happy the new hospital will be world class. Why wouldn’t it be?

Martin returned to the cervical cancer controversy, and said that the national screening programme was now “in jeopardy” due to an enormous backlog in processing results after women availed of the Minister for Health’s decision to offer free second tests to women at the height of the CervicalCheck scandal last year.

Clare Daly of Independents4Change expressed her frustration at the delay in the publication of a final report by Mother and Baby Homes Commission, which has looked for another extension to conclude its work.

She said it was given three years to do the job, and four years on it has produced four interim reports: the first, seeking a time extension; the second explaining why the first extension was sought; the third also looking for an extra year; and now “at the eleventh hour” another report looking for another year.

“Is this an actual joke?” she asked.

While she didn’t expect the Taoiseach to be on top of every detail about the inquiry, she told him it just wasn’t acceptable that he was unable to tell her why the delay is happening.

‘Huge problem’

“There is a huge problem in this House. We set up commissions of investigations in response to appalling scandals and horrific abuses perpetuated on our people, and then we let them carry on and we let them ask for extra time...it’s a feature of Irish political life, with the Opposition, with the media, that nobody follows it through.” Once these commissions were set up “everybody forgets”.

Daly was followed by the Independent TD for Tipperary Séamus Healy, who spoke up for the 197,000 or so carers in the community who do an immensely valuable and difficult job “with very little financial or other support in return”.

However, a significant portion of them are facing waits of up to 17 weeks to have their application for a carer’s allowance approved.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald took up where the Fianna Fáil leader left off on Tuesday, and returned to the incredible story of the ever-expanding budget for the National Children’s Hospital. “At best, a fiasco; at worst, an example of gross incompetence.”

After repeating for the second day in a row that the new hospital would have the most fantastic facilities, Leo reiterated that people should focus on the “value” of the facility, as opposed to its cost. People may be criticising it now, but like other big projects such as the Luas, the Port Tunnel or Terminal 2 at Dublin airport, people would be always delighted when it was built.

Effectiveness

Mary Lou, like many others listening to the Taoiseach’s “value” mantra, was happy the new hospital will be world class. Why wouldn’t it be?

“I am questioning the efficacy and effectiveness of the procurement procedures.”

It is an expensive undertaking, stressed Leo. Where there are overruns of expenditure “there are consequences” and some projects “may well be deferred”.

Nothing to worry about, though. It’s just requires a “reprofiling” of the national budget.

And as the Taoiseach hopes the hospital will see us through for another 100 years it’ll be cheap at half the price – in the end.

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