Miriam Lord: The Toddler, the Baby Brute and the questions

Richard Bruton proves an adequate substitute for his party leader

’Bruton the Younger proved himself an adequate substitute for his party leader.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

’Bruton the Younger proved himself an adequate substitute for his party leader.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Toddler was away in Brussels on Wednesday.

He left the Baby Brute in charge.

Bruton the Younger proved himself an adequate substitute for his party leader. It was like Enda had never left, as Richard ignored what he was asked with an unblinking display of smooth irrelevance in the face of a simple question.

Bertie Ahern set the bar high in this regard, but the Taoiseach has proved himself more than up to the challenge in recent Dáil displays.

His Minister for Jobs proved no slouch either.

Richard was comfortable enough on the continuing saga of the IBRC commission of investigation. But when Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy returned to his pet subject, Irish Water, the Minister slipped easily into full waffle mode.

Where IBRC was concerned, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams wanted the terms of reference amended to take in a number of issues in relation to businessman Denis O’Brien’s alleged dealings with the failed bank.

Pearse Doherty raised – and Catherine Murphy raised it last week and the week before – the so-called loan extensions that Mr O’Brien sought, which are being disputed. The terms of reference refer to contractual relationships,” explained the Fianna Fáil leader.

He was worried that the alleged extensions were based on verbal agreements which might not come under the remit of the commission.

“Is a verbal agreement contractual?” he asked in a suspicious tone, stopping short of quoting Sam Goldwyn’s “a verbal contract is not worth the paper it’s written on”.

Richard insisted there was nothing to worry about because the Attorney General had seen the files and given assurances that they would be included.

The Sinn Féin leader wasn’t satisfied either, intimating that the files produced in public by his finance spokesman are only the tip of the iceberg.

Merely addressing the subject matter of the documents introduced in the Dáil by Doherty wouldn’t be enough.

“There are more,” said Gerry.

Peadar Tóibín elaborated: Pearse had disclosed them “as an example”.

Files coming out their ears, apparently.

The Government seems only too happy to gather in as much material as the Opposition is willing to throw at their commission. The more documents they can shovel the way of the investigation, the longer it should take to produce findings.

To infinity and beyond!

Good news for the Coalition, because in the parallel universe that is Leinster House, infinity begins after the general election.

Best efforts

But despite their best efforts to boot Irish Water off the agenda, it still exists in the here and now and may yet drive them to insanity and beyond.

Paul Murphy is doing his best to help them get there. He is still nursing considerable hurt over Enda’s dismissive remarks to him when he recently asked how many people have paid their water bills.

But Paul has reason to hope now. He recalled Enda’s sincere words to the Dáil on Tuesday: “I have been a supporter for a very long time of the idea that Dáil questions should be answered as fully and as completely as possible.”

Murphy relived his shocking experience of the time he asked Enda about the bills.

“In response, he advised me to toddle along” and ask Irish Water, quivered Paul, adding that the Taoiseach accused him of behaving like Julius Caesar “because I wanted an answer to a question in the segment of Dáil business known as Leaders’ Questions.”

Such a response would have undone a lesser man. But not Paul Murphy.

Undeterred by the Taoiseach’s ungracious reply, he revealed he “duly toddled along” and asked. Irish Water confirmed that more than 600,000 bills had passed their pay-by date and they knew how many had paid up.

“However, they refused outright to give us the figures on payment.”

So Paul, along with his colleague Ruth Coppinger, submitted a freedom of information request.

Again, no joy.

“Could that be because payment levels are on the floor and disclosure of the figures would undermine the Government’s scare campaign and give many others confidence not to pay?”

Now, with nearly 1.4 million Bills having passed their pay-by date, Murphy has just two simple questions. Have the figures for rates of payment been discussed between Irish Water and the Government? How many of those due to pay have stumped up?

Mine of information

Richard Bruton was a mine of information.

“If the deputy is unhappy with the freedom of information request, there is an independent freedom of information commissioner who will deal with those issues.”

He didn’t have the information on hand to answer . . . city water supply on a knife edge . . . a modern water infrastructure that’s fit for purpose . . . revenue streams . . . home ownership . . . job creation. He could have talked for days.

Murphy tried again, reminding him of Enda’s commitment to fully answering Dáil questions and the terrible treatment he endured at his hands last month.

“I was told by the Taoiseach to go to Irish Water, to toddle along, where I would be given the answer,” he plaintively reiterated to a sympathetic chorus of “toddle, toddle, toddle” from Opposition colleagues.

“Four weeks have passed and we come back and ask the same questions again.”

“Toddle along,” sighed Fianna Fáil’s Sean O’Fheargail, shaking his head.

“And where’s the Taoiseach?” demanded Colm Keaveney from an adjoining seat.

Finian McGrath had a flash of inspiration.

“Yes. Where’s the toddler?”

Micheál Martin let out a burst of laughter. They guffawed on all sides. Except for Paschal Donohoe, who spent the entire session sitting silently beside Bruton with eyes glazed and an expression shifting from puzzlement to confusion and back again.

We hear poor Paschal, who is the Minister for Sport, has been like this since his visit to the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, when he was a close witness to the FAI’s John Delaney kissing his girlfriend in the East Stand. The picture was all over the tabloids.

Murphy asked about the water bills. Richard waffled about a modern system for a modern economy and dangerous lead pipes.“I’m afraid you’ll have to table a question to the Minister responsible.”

The Toddler Kenny and the Baby Brute.

A pair of them in it.

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