Miriam Lord: Sorry seems to be easiest word in Leinster House
Apologies abound as Leo says mea culpa to the people of West Belfast for tweet that insulted the wrong people
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten at the launch of “Empowering Communities for Climate Action” on Wednesday. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Tuesday was a big day for apologies in Leinster House.
Everyone enjoyed them so much it was decided to continue with the theme.
The Taoiseach apologised for a second time on the floor of the house. In this instance, it was to the people of West Belfast who may have mistakenly believed he insulted them in a tweet during the last election when he was, in fact, insulting Sinn Féin.
This column also got in on the act, with a sincere apology outside on Kildare Street to Mattie McGrath for completely misquoting a line from his speech in the debate marking the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
He had been explaining why he does not favour same-sex marriage but is in agreement with the Government’s decision to offer a State apology to gay men who were criminalised for same-sex activity. At the time of the marriage equality referendum he said loving relationships between people of the same sex deserved to be protected.
And then, this is what he said: “From the point of view of the couple, such relations differ from those of heterosexual couples neither in emotional intensity nor in the depth of their value.”
Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to make out a few of the words on our recording and “neither” and “nor” sailed right over our heads. A rather crucial admission.
Mattie was very generous about it.
“Some people back home keep getting at me to speak more clearly,” he said, gallantly.
Although if he did that, then we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the spectacle of Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy watching Mattie ask him questions. The beautifully spoken son of Dublin 4, straining to listen, stares intently at the Tipperary Independent as if he is trying to read his lips.
And then, by some miracle, Murphy stands up and usually gives a coherent reply along with the creditable impression that he has just understood every word.
But back to Leo, who also was the recipient of an apology, of sorts, from Roscommon Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy.
During the Order of Business, Euge didn’t want to be churlish about the Taoiseach’s announcement of 1,000 jobs to be created in Dublin by Amazon, but when would his neck of the woods get a fair crack of the whip?
“It’s great, great news and again it shows the importance of foreign direct investment to our country but, what I want to come back to – and this was very strong in the programme for government – is the lack of the balanced regional development that was being promised,” he said.
“In my own constituency of Roscommon-Galway there are no jobs announcements and only for Leo there would be little increase in the employment there...”
Simon Harris looked up.
“Only for Leo?” he repeated, smiling broadly as Government TDs cheered the Fianna Fáil man for his generosity.
“LEO. That’s the Local Enterprise Office,” shouted Robert Troy on behalf of his red-faced colleague.
“It’ll be up on the posters in Dublin this week!” whooped on the Healy-Reas. It sounded like Danny. His brother Michael was probably too annoyed to say anything seeing as the bicycle he uses to get around Dublin had earlier been stolen from outside the Passport Office on Mount Street.
“Sorry. Sorry. Local Enterprise Office!” cried Euge. “Local. Enterprise. Office. Same as your own Christian name.”
Anyway, it’s no laughing matter, he told a smirking Leo.
Thousands of people have to leave his constituency every day for work. “Up to a thousand come to Dublin each day – now that is no life for families.” He wanted to know when they could expect to see real jobs announced for their part of the country.
The Taoiseach was chuffed with Eugene’s declaration that their wouldn’t be any increase in jobs in his area if it were not for LEO.
“I may quote you on that in the future, Deputy. I may even include it in my leaflets, particularly those for consumption around the country.”
Then he went on to say how the Amazon jobs in Dublin are “extraordinarily welcome”. And while these big tech jobs may only go to big cities with critical mass, there have been many positive job announcements outside the Dublin region.
He mentioned Sligo, Monaghan, Longford, Wicklow and Carlow.
“There hasn’t been much for Roscommon” said Euge, sadly.
“Still none for Roscommon.”
“One thousand jobs have been announced for Dublin,” roared Danny Healy-Rae in disgust.
Leo was running out of nice numbers.
“I don’t have an example to give the Deputy in Roscommon, but....”
“There are none there,” said Euge, finishing his sentence for him.
“We’re working on it” was the best Leo could manage, adding that he knew the TD would want to welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen in Roscommon. “That must be welcomed.”
He didn’t get it from Eugene Murphy, who was determined to have the last word.
“That’s due to the fact that people are leaving to work elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, former Labour leader Joan Burton, who happens to share the Dublin West constituency with the Taoiseach, was thinking about his recent visit to Féile an Phobal in Belfast.
She recalled that his slogan during the last days of the general election campaign was “Don’t let Sinn Féin turn west Dublin into west Belfast”.
Leo wanted to explain. “The phrase to which she referred was not a campaign slogan – it was a tweet.”
Furthermore: “It was a criticism of Sinn Féin’s record in government and its poor delivery for communities that vote for it in large numbers. I am happy to clarify that it was not meant to be a criticism of west Belfast as a place or as a community. If I was doing it again, I would do it differently.”
“Are you apologising to west Belfast?” asked Joan.
“I am apologising to anyone who was offended by it and believed it was a reference to the people and community of west Belfast, when it was actually a reference to Sinn Féin’s poor performance in government in Northern Ireland and its failure to deliver for people in west Belfast.”
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty was making no apologies for his party.
“Sinn Féin has had five out of the six seats in west Belfast,” he pointed out.
The Fianna Fáil leader smiled. “I think the Taoiseach will say anything, at any time, when it suits.”