Miriam Lord: TDs weren’t banking on Taoiseach’s parting Yuletide gift

Talk about spoiling the Opposition with presents of denials about bank bailout

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, responding to Richard Boyd-Barrett TD in the Dáil, has said that the "banks were not bailed out" during the economic crash. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Wednesday was the Taoiseach’s last day in the Dáil before the festive break.

Before he left and after he bade everyone compliments of the season and best wishes for the new year, he put the icing on the cake by leaving behind a most glorious Yuletide gift for his opponents.

Talk about spoiling them.

The Fianna Fáil backbenchers were sickened.

Micheál’s Christmas Clanger dropped down the Convention Centre chimney on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon. It brought great joy to all the opposition boys and girls, especially the ones from People Before Profit, Solidarity and Sinn Féin.

Richard Boyd-Barrett got there first and his excited shrieks rang out around the Dublin docklands as he reeled back on his heels in wonderment at the magic of it all. Looking at his shocked little face, it was hard to know what he might do next: faint or cry or flabber his gast for the media once he calmed down.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett: ‘flabbergasted’ apparently. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett: ‘flabbergasted’ apparently. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

At that very moment, RBB must have felt like the boy in the Barry’s tea advert.

“Comrades, you’ll never guess what Santa brought!”

For there it was, Micheál’s amazing Christmas Clanger, all shiny and new and completely unexpected.

When Richard posted his letter to the North Pole asking for “a Che Guevara PlayStation game, a new check shirt, a megaphone and a surprise”, he never in his wildest dreams thought the surprise would be a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach standing up in Dáil Éireann and declaring that the €64 billion State rescue package for the banks in 2008, which happened on Fianna Fáil’s watch and pauperised the nation, was not a “bailout”.

Simplistic solutions

But that’s exactly what Micheál Martin did in the middle of Questions on Promised Legislation during one of his routine bickers with Boyd-Barrett. The PBP TD marvelled at how the Government can cite reasons why it cannot financially underwrite redundant Debenham’s workers, yet there was no problem finding money or setting a €64 billion precedent when the banks needed to be bailed out.

The argument was taking a familiar course - the Dún Laoghaire socialist attacking the Taoiseach for abandoning workers and the Fianna Fáil leader attacking Boyd-Barrett for “acting the populist” and “leading people up the hill all of the time, pretending there are easy, simplistic solutions.....”

So nothing is simple?

“It WAS for the banks, ” zinged RBB from across the floor.

Which is when the Taoiseach had his sudden rush of blood to the head.

Micheál has appeared increasingly frustrated as he daily decries the “populist rhetoric” from Opposition leaders such as Boyd-Barrett, Mattie McGrath and Mary Lou McDonald.

He responds by behaving like they are annoying the hell out of him, which must be a great source of cheer, spurring them on to scale greater heights of provocation.

These days, the Taoiseach is far too easily riz and they know it.

When he was on a roll attacking RBB, honing in on the TD’s rabble-rousing tactics, the little barb on the bailout pierced Micheál’s composure yet again.

Off he went, taking the TD to task for “pretending they are easy simplistic solutions when you know in your heart, you know in your heart....”

Zing!

Zing! Incoming from the socialist on the banks, entirely predictable. Yet it knocked the Taoiseach completely off his stride. Micheál stopped, clearly annoyed, did a double take and veered off course.

You wanna talk about the banks? Huh? Huh? He was all riled up.

“...I’ll talk to you about the banks. The banks were not bailed out. Shareholders in the banks were not bailed out, the State took equity, the shareholders were not bailed out.”

Did he hear what he just said? No bailout? Ah here.

But the red mist was down.

“That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s the facts,” he told an astounded Boyd-Barrett and the gobsmacked handful of TDs suddenly waking up in the darkness of the near empty auditorium. “But you never want to hear the facts because you live in a fantasy economic wonderland.”

Not true.

Richard was already luxuriating in the magnificence of Micheál’s Christmas Clanger - the best present any little boy Boyd-Barrett could have hoped for - and he was living in a real winter wonderland.

“I was flabbergasted,” he happily told the media afterwards.

But this was a welcome Christmas gift that many could share.

The Shinners were so delighted they gurgled about calling on the Taoiseach to correct the Dáil record and admit that there actually was a bailout, unless the entire country, including Micheál’s party, has been living in a fantasy economic wonderland for the past 12 years and imagining there was this awful bank bailout when there wasn’t.

Selective amnesia

People will be amazed. Was it all a dream?

Perhaps the Taoiseach, who was a member of the cabinet during those dark days, is suffering from selective amnesia. It must have been a traumatic time for him. Then again, it was a time traumatic for a lot of people, who would love the luxury of being able to forget.

If Micheál was being very technically correct, he was also irrelevant to the point of delusion.

Sure, it wasn’t a bailout at all. It was a dig-out. What happened is that the country was on its uppers and everyone had a whip around until they were broke and then we all lived happily ever after.

Oh dear.

After a very difficult few months settling into the job of Taoiseach, battling stupid calamities within and a global pandemic without, Micheál could do with a good rest. He nearly made it out through the gap on Wednesday and was on the cusp of showing the Convention Centre a clean pair of heels until next January when he blew up in the final lap.

And to make matters worse, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar takes Leaders’ Questions on the final day of term.

It’ll be slim pickins for all the thirsty kitties around the Convention Centre on Thursday, because a certain cat will have cornered all the cream....

No bailout? Really?

As the Dáil wraps up for 2020, Micheál Martin will be hoping that this Clanger is just for Christmas and not for life.

Morto for him.

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