Miriam Lord: TDs do not speak as they do in the official Dáil record. It’s a shame

Political anoraks rejoice as the Nealon’s Guide to the 33rd Dáil and 26th Seanad lands

Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly said a record of what is said in the chamber has been kept since the first sitting of the Dáil 101 years ago. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly said a record of what is said in the chamber has been kept since the first sitting of the Dáil 101 years ago. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Tuesday marked a unusual milestone in the history of the House. Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly announced that the sitting would see the commencement of the 1,000th bound volume of Tuairisc Oifigiúil Dháil Éireann, the official report of Dáil debates.

She said a record of what is said in the chamber has been kept since the first sitting of the Dáil 101 years ago. “For more than 70 years the Official Report was published in hard copy format as daily books for each sitting day, which were then compiled into bound volumes. The numbering system of these daily books and bound volumes was the basis of the reference classification of debates.”

Since the 1990s most people read their report on the Oireachtas website. However, under copyright legislation, bound volumes of the debates are still printed and deposited with the copyright libraries. And you can still buy them from the Government Publications Office.

The classification system continues into the electronic era so Tuesday’s session can be found in Volume 1,000, Book No I.

Perhaps now, a century on, the Oireachtas might consider abandoning its out-of-touch reporting style. Ireland’s parliamentary record is a copycat version of Westminister’s Hansard, which may have been acceptable donkey’s years ago but is now way past its sell-by date.

Readers of our Tuairsc Oifigiúil are presented with sanitised dialogue, where courtly politicians address each other in the third person and one speaks awfully awfully nice no matter what manner of manure one might be flinging across the floor.

Our TDs do not talk the way the TDs talk in the official record. It’s a shame.

Grammar is routinely tidied up while repetition, so often an effective rhetorical flourish, is taken out. All sense of passion is lost. Sometimes, removing or substituting clauses to fit Hansard’s grammatical template can actually change the meaning and import of a contribution.

A deputy spitting fire in the chamber comes across as a wet blanket in the official report. The wonder of a Bertie Ahern or Danny Healy-Rae in full flow is lost to readers of our slavish homage to Hansard. Strangers to Irish politics would think we only elect people who speak like Prince Charles or Princess Anne.

It isn’t the fault of the staff in the Debates office, who are bound by the rules. They are also at the mercy of TDs who have been tabling ridiculously late sittings in recent weeks. This has because a major bone of contention for Leinster House staff who must work much later than expected because deputies routinely fail to master the complexities of a weekly timetable.

While most TDs, apart from the few required in the chamber, have long scarpered home, Oireachtas staff, among them the Debates team and the ushers, have to stay until the bitter end and then spend another hour closing up the shop.

We understand union representatives complained about the 2am sittings to the Business Committee this week and called for a more rational scheduling of the Dáil’s working day.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath: ‘We all know the innuendo here. We all know what it is.’ Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Independent TD Mattie McGrath: ‘We all know the innuendo here. We all know what it is.’ Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

‘Nudge nudge, wink wink’

Here’s a minor example of from the official record earlier in the week, when the Tánaiste was doing his mea culpa for having been caught out sending a confidential document to Dr Maithiu O’Tuathail, former president of the now defunct National Association of GPs.

O’Tuathail was also Leo Varadkar’s friend, until the Fine Gael leader spectacularly cut him loose on Tuesday, telling the Dáil that he was more of a minor acquaintance who thought he was closer to him than he actually was. It kinda happens to people who are famous, explained Leo.

So how friendly were they, wondered Mattie “nudge nudge, wink wink” McGrath, who seemed convinced the two men had to be closer than the Tánaiste was making out because they were photographed together “involved in a certain march in Dublin in 2019”.

WhatsApp this morning have introduced a feature that will make messages disappear after seven days . . . it’s a clear indication WhatsApp are responding to consumer behaviour

After dismissing McGrath’s pointed reference to the annual gay Pride march (“We all know the innuendo here. We all know what it is”) Leo listed the amount of times they socialised recently.

His response, according to the official record is: “I would say we have met twice in the past year – once at a Christmas drinks thing over a year ago and once when six people went out to dinner, and he and I were part of that six.”

What he actually said was: “I’d say we’ve met twice in the last year. Once at a Christmas drinks thing over a year ago. Once when six people went out to dinner, and he was one of the six and I was one of the other six.”

That line caused a flurry of speculation among the amateur sleuths on the Tánaiste’s case. One of “the other six”? Was this a mini-golfgate scenario? Were there really a dozen diners when six was the maximum under the rules at the time? Did they split into two groups separated by a flimsy partition?

Sounds to us like a simple slip of the tongue by the Tánaiste, but some aggrieved FF and FG golfgate apologists around the House are muttering darkly about his statement.

Perhaps they should get CSI Gweedore on the job. Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty might be able to get to the bottom of it when his party moves its no confidence motion in Varadkar next week.

On the ball

Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne was on the ball during the Order of Business in the Seanad on Thursday.

“I regularly raise the question about social media giants and how they are controlling more and more aspects of our lives and how they respond to consumer behaviour.

“And I notice that WhatsApp this morning have now introduced a feature that will make messages disappear after seven days. Given recent events it’s a clear indication WhatsApp are responding to consumer behaviour.”

Leo Varadkar (and some of his friends) will be delighted. Not so much in Village magazine.

Table football players without the poles. Photograph: Maxwells
Table football players without the poles. Photograph: Maxwells

Ultimate guide

Good news for political anoraks! The Nealon’s Guide to the 33rd Dáil and 26th Seanad has landed.

It’s an invaluable reference point for politicians, journalists, handlers, hustlers, hangers-on, PR hacks, community activists, quiz compilers, lobbyists, layabouts and all the suits who loiter around Kildare Street spreading corporate schmooze.

Edited by former political journalist and public affairs expert Tim Ryan, this is the 14th in the series started by the late broadcast journalist turned TD Ted Nealon after the 1973 general election. Produced in association with the Irish Times, the latest “Nealon’s” is described as a “bumper” edition with the full results from the Local and European elections included along with all the stats from this year’s Dáil and Seanad elections. There’s also a page thrown in on Michael D’s election in 2018.

The front cover features that unusual group photograph of the new Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his socially distanced cabinet on the night of June 28th after they received their seals of office from the President in Dublin Castle. At the time, we thought they might be about to launch into a TikTok dance routine, but on second viewing they look like one half of a table football game with the steel rods photoshopped out.

There were no great gains for women despite all the high-flown talk about quotas and commitments

As usual, the guide, available online from nealonsguide.com and Dubray books, has profiles on all TDs and senators. Nealon’s stalwart Stephen Collins provides the analysis. Due to the prevailing conditions, the usual plonk-soaked launch has had to be shelved. Instead, Micheál Martin will do the honours by posing for a photograph with editor Ryan and the book. “Maybe I can leave it on the steps of government buildings and then he can pick it up.”

Remember to take it out of the brown envelope first, Tim, otherwise things might become awkward.

We are reminded by the guide that the 33rd Dáil has 48 new TDs, 17 on them from Sinn Féin.

Recognising all those newbies is proving problematic for Leinster House old hands due to a combination of compulsory mask-wearing in the building and the decommissioning of most of the seats in the Dáil chamber, which means they can’t be as visible as they would hope to be.

It led to an episode recently in the canteen where a veteran Fine Gael senator, in the act of polishing off his dinner in the middle of the day, was approached by a new Labour senator who congratulated him on a recent promotion.

The senator smiled at the young woman. “Oh, thank-you very much” he smiled before promptly handing her his dirty plate for removal. The senator was so taken aback she said nothing and took it away.

Keeping it in the family

Kerry’s Michael Healy-Rae was top dog after the 2016 election, winning the title of biggest vote-getter with an impressive 20,378 first preference votes.

He lost his crown to Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchell from Dublin Bay North who pulled in 21,344 votes. This time out MHR was lucky to squeak into the last spot in the top 10 with 16. The rest of the slots were bagged by a rampant Sinn Féin.

Meanwhile, there were no great gains for women despite all the high-flown talk about quotas and commitments. There were 35 women in the last Dáil. After a massive leap forward in February, that number swelled to 36. The Seanad has 24 women as against 36 men.

The biggest spoilers were in the Wee County. Louth had the highest number of spoiled votes (757) while the lowest was recorded in Dublin Rathdown (251).

Wicklow saw the highest turnout (70.9 per cent) with Dublin Bay South, ironically the constituency of Eoghan Murphy, the minister in charge of the election - at the bottom of the turnout table (49.4 per cent).

Over in the Seanad, they like to keep thing in the family.

According to the guide, Fine Gael’s John Cummins is the son of long-time senator Maurice Cummins who was leader of the Upper House from 2011-2016. His colleague, Garret Ahern is the son of former South Tipp Deputy, Theresa Ahearn while Emer Currie is the daughter of former deputy and minister of state Austin Currie.

Labour’s Marie Sherlock is a niece of former deputy and senator Joe Sherlock and a first cousin to Seán Sherlock. Her colleague Mark Wall from Kildare is a son of former TD and senator Jack Wall. Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion – who recently resigned her seat due to a Covid payment in the North inadvertently resting in her bank account – is a niece of Martina Anderson, former SF MEP and current MLA for Foyle.

Fianna Fáil’s Mary Fitzpatrick is the daughter of former Dublin Central deputy Dr Dermot Fitzpatrick. And Green Party senator Vincent P Martin is the brother of Minister Catherine Martin.

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