Miriam Lord: Silly season returns as Dáil seeks Operation Greenshovel

Leo Varadkar leads his B Team back for a new Dáil term but where’s the Brexit plan?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar extended a teasing welcome to ‘what will be an eventful session, I believe’. File image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

All hail the boys.

Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance. Three Fine Gael galacticos in the one Government.

The Blasted Trinity.

They are as one.


Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Leo Varadkar waxing lovingly on his two main guys in cabinet: “Notwithstanding many efforts to suggest the contrary, there isn’t a cigarette paper between me and Paschal when it comes to economic policy, nor is there a cigarette paper between me and Simon Coveney when it comes to Brexit.”

Although you could probably drive a coach and four between Leo and most other members of his parliamentary party.

This is the special B Team – Leo’s crack Blueshirt band of Brexit, budget, beef, Boris and bullsh*t brothers. Thick as thieves.

Marvel are already sniffing around with a view to negotiating rights.

In a strange oversight, the Taoiseach failed to mention the Minister for Housing. Murph will be devastated.

Leo proclaimed his closeness to his two top blokes during a Brexit related exchange in the Dáil on the first day back after the long Summer recess. Unbroken sunshine taunted the returning politicians disconsolately slinking through the reconditioned revolving doors for another season.

There wasn’t a great turnout for the resumption. Many TDs opted to forego an afternoon in the chamber in favour of putting themselves about at the Ploughing Championships in Co Carlow.

The Ceann Comhairle welcomed everyone back to the chamber, said it was good to see they hadn’t all abandoned the place for the ploughing and then, heaving a very heavy sigh, he opened proceedings.

The Taoiseach extended a teasing welcome to “what will be an eventful session, I believe.”

Leo is a slave to his notes on the beef issue, an unreconstructed townie ill-at-ease with matters agricultural

With talk already doing the rounds of a general election in November, TDs and journalists snapped to attention. “Ooooh!” Excited gasps from all sides.

Any clues?

None, just a knowing smirk from Leo. And the same from across the floor on the Fianna Fáil benches. Micheál Martin, Fine Gael’s Government underpinner, can make that election call too.

Meaty affairs

Minutes into the Leaders’ Questions, the big political tune of recent weeks made its Dáil debut.

“It’s all about that beef, ‘bout that beef, no trouble. It’s all about that beef, ‘bout that beef.”

No trouble is the best way to proceed, counselled the Taoiseach, urging protesting beef farmers to pull back from their protest at the gates of meat processing plants in order to protect their futures.

Leo is a slave to his notes on the beef issue, an unreconstructed townie ill-at-ease with matters agricultural. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald put up a spirited fight for the beef farmers and the processing factory workers, but as another dyed in the wool Metropolitan, she was also less than convincing.

Brexit, though, brings people together. All areas of Irish life stand to suffer in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Brendan Howlin, the Labour leader, is very keen to find out the Government’s financial plans in the event of a crash-out scenario becoming reality on October 31st.

The time has come for clarity on the specifics. “Right now, today, the lack of certainty is leading to a visible downturn in businesses,” he told the Taoiseach, who said he would love to enlighten him, but he can’t.

First of all, it will all become clear in three weeks time when Paschal publishes his budget but until everything is “signed and sealed” Leo can’t reveal anything.

“You’ll know the answers to those questions the same day as I do,” he assured Brendan. This doesn’t really ring true, particularly when “there isn’t a cigarette paper” between Leo and Paschal when it comes to economic matters.

However, the Taoiseach could say that tax changes would be “minimal” and social welfare changes “modest and focused”.

We never had a Yellowhammer type document that we hid from people. We published information all along the way

This was “jointly” agreed between the two men, he stressed, so anxious to make the point he repeated it. Their decision to put the brakes on budget spending was made “jointly”.

Nothing to do with disagreements about overspending severely limiting their options.

Joint decisions and cigarette papers. The B Team brainstormers must be brilliant at thinking outside the box.

The message they want to get out to the public is that Ireland is Brexit ready, and when the time comes to be seriously ready we will be even more ready than we are already ready now.

Operation Greenshovel

Any chance of sharing a bit more detail? Brendan Howlin wondered if we have a version of the UK’s Operation Yellowhammer document which sets out the best “worst case scenarios” in the case of a disorderly Brexit. This is the report Boris Johnson’s government tried to hide.

“We never had a Yellowhammer type document that we hid from people. We published information all along the way,” soothed Leo.

But the Opposition doesn’t sound inclined to believe him. They want detail, clearly of the view that some sort of Operation Greenshovel document lurks in Government Buildings and nobody is saying anything.

The Taoiseach insists he is not holding back. There will be job losses if there is no Brexit deal.

His Tánaiste (not a cigarette paper between them) was somewhat more optimistic during his stint in the chamber. “My information is that there are not going to be empty supermarket shelves,” he said. Later, he said he was having the chats with his UK opposite number and other significant players.

The Sinn Féin leader doesn’t want Leo revealing any of the ideas he and B Team brothers are jointly cooking up during their close-knit confabs. All Boris Johnson needs to know, says Mary Lou, is that the backstop is not negotiable and there should be no customs checks on the Border.

She claimed Fianna Fáil once proposed a Canada-style customs regulation system.

“Stop being silly,” Micheál growled.

How could he even think “out loud” about such a thing, Mary Lou continued. She hoped the Taoiseach won’t be so “daft and dangerous” to behave in a similar fashion.

The Fianna Fáil leader protested angrily.

Mary Lou gave him a pitying look.

“Micheál,” she drawled dismissively. “Go away and stop being… like...” She paused to find the right word.


Normal service is resumed.