Miriam Lord: Taoiseach nearly turns on his tormentors

Danny Healy-Rae question takes Martin close to the brink

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin:  Matters proceeded uneventfully until Danny Healy-Rae ambled through a gap in the hedge with a query about the culling of cattle to combat climate change.Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach, Micheál Martin: Matters proceeded uneventfully until Danny Healy-Rae ambled through a gap in the hedge with a query about the culling of cattle to combat climate change.Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

OMG. Taoiseach says STFU in the Dáil while enduring GBH of the ear hole from DHR. Surely it can’t be true. This coarsening of debate in national politics has to stop.

So do you have anything to say about this, Micheál?

“Ah shut the fuh. . .”

Sorry, could you repeat that? Only we couldn’t quite hear you above the tortured howls of Danny Healy-Rae.

Say it again. Please. But this time, finish the sentence properly. Go ahead, Taoiseach, make our day. . .

Blink and you would have missed it. But yesterday Micheál Martin almost did what most politicians merely dream of doing at some point in their working lives.

Being shouted at on a regular basis – whether by a political opponent or an irate member of the public – is increasingly part of the job for people who choose a career in representative politics. But even when patience is clearly wearing thin, TDs tend to bite their lip for the sake of decorum and tough it out. Whereas in reality what they really want to do is tell their tormentor to put a sock in it and stick their half-baked opinions where the sun don’t shine.

But they rarely do. And certainly not in the rarified confines of the Dáil chamber.

Shut the hell up

You don’t need to be in politics to know the misery of someone yabbering on at you for the umpteenth time as you silently scream at them to shut the hell up.

The Taoiseach was on the verge of snapping during questions on promised legislation. He’s been a bit down in the dumps since his Government’s big plan to deliver a lifeline to lovelorn and lustful clubbers shrivelled in the cold shower of Covid. The reopening of nightclubs and return of full capacity gigs should have been the centrepiece of a set-piece announcement on Monday clearing the way for a wholesale lifting of restrictions tomorrow. But an alarming rise in Covid cases filling up an alarming lack of hospital beds put paid to that.

Micheál and his downcast Coalition partners had no choice but to keep some restrictions in place. To assuage the owners of badly weakened businesses in the night-time economy, it was decided to stick with letting them start up again after almost two years in the dark, but with a hastily drawn up, confusing and unworkable list of provisos.

How galling it must be for the Taoiseach – who is back and forth to Europe on important national business and who leads a country with a seat on the UN security council – to see his hard work and high office reduced to probing questions about whether the shift in Coppers is outlawed and if the mandatory wearing of masks late at night in darkened drinking dens points to a disturbing lowering of morals in Cabinet.

Nightclub owners

In the Dáil, Alan Kelly wondered why Monday’s press conference went ahead after circumstances had so obviously changed. He had “put the cart before the horse” by announcing “incomprehensible” restrictions without consulting the nightclub owners preparing to reopen in a matter of days.

“When was the last time YOU were in a nightclub?” asked the Labour leader, whose primal display of pole-dancing to the top of his supporters’ shoulders is immortalised in a photograph from the 2016 election count. He said the restrictions as they stand (or sit, depending on the venue and class of entertainment) “will simply not work. It’s not natural”.

“We thought two weeks ago that we would be opening without restrictions” Micheál wanly replied, heavy disappointment in his voice. Everything was flying until last Wednesday when the medical experts started ringing the alarm bells and pointing to a deterioration in the situation.

Yes, the nightclub operators got short notice of the change in reopening requirements but that was down to the sudden setback in the numbers.

“And you used a good phrase there: “It’s not natural. Covid is not natural” stressed the Taoiseach. “That’s the problem. There are many twists and turns with it and it can upset the best laid plans.”

Special “guidance” will be issued to venue operators and music promoters, but their activities must be “ring-fenced for live entertainment”, he said. But everywhere else when a pint is pulled or a lemonade poured, people will have to keep their hands to themselves and remain in their seats with their legs under control. (Sanitiser will be available in the clubs. Ice and lemon optional.)

Yesterday afternoon at an event outside the Dáil, Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin promised that the anomalies and contradictions in the plan to reintroduce nightlife will be ironed out the day before the scheduled reopening. The Taoiseach is also confident the situation will be resolved as best as possible.

Blackthorn sticks

There were unconfirmed reports that masks and restrictions on movement is to be abandoned in favour of a new task force led by Dr Tony Holohan which will patrol nightspots around the country with the express intention of walloping people who are too close together with stout blackthorn sticks.

Martin hadn’t been expecting to deal with murder on the Dáil dance floor when his week began. “My central object and that of my Government is to protect lives and protect people’s health . . . that’s not giving out to criticising or blaming anybody, but that has to be central” he stressed wearily.

Leaders’ Questions gave way to questions on promised legislation. Matters proceeded uneventfully until Danny Healy-Rae ambled through a gap in the hedge with a query about the culling of cattle to combat climate change.

He said the Taoiseach had been quoted as saying he is in favour of reducing the size of the national herd.

“Where did I say that?” asked Micheál.

Sure he wouldn’t mention it if it wasn’t out there. Go check the quote for yourself, said DHR.

“Produce it” demanded Micheál.

“It’s out there,” insisted Danny. Produce it so, repeated the Taoiseach, rapidly reaching the conclusion that in this farming-related query, Healy-Rae should be seen but not herd.

“I didn’t make it up” harrumphed the Independent TD for Kerry, getting thick now.

“I can’t believe the disinformation” protested the Taoiseach, affronted Cork accent to the fore.

“It’s in the papers” shouted Danny.

“It’s in the papers, man” repeated Micheál sarcastically. Where so? Where?

“The farming papers . . .” blustered his accuser. “I didn’t make it up, man. It’s out there.”

The Taoiseach appealed to the leas Cheann Comhairle. DHR should not get away with saying something which is untrue. He should withdraw it.

“Well, you disprove me so, if it twas wrong,” bellowed Danny. Micheál shook his head and laughed. He was about to say something back, but what was the point? He gave up, throwing both hands up to the continuing din.

“Aah shut the fu . . .”

And his voice trailed off. He very nearly said it, but, to the unspeakable disappointment of listening reporters, he stopped himself in the nick of time.

But we knew how he felt.

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