Miriam Lord: Time to stand still, at least on Leo’s watch

Daylight Facesaving Time set to continue, even in post-Brexit Ireland

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “I couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t wish to countenance a situation whereby Northern Ireland is in a different time zone to the rest of Ireland.” File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “I couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t wish to countenance a situation whereby Northern Ireland is in a different time zone to the rest of Ireland.” File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

There will be no interfering with time on Leo Varadkar’s watch.

(And his cufflinks are not to be messed with either.)

This came as welcome news on Wednesday when the Dáil contemplated what might happen if the island ends up juggling two different time zones as a result of a no-deal Brexit.

It simply can’t happen.

The smugglers would be worn out.

Daisy the calf having her passport stamped in Monaghan at midday and inspected at noon in Aughnacloy before a lunchtime bucket of nuts in Clones while undergoing a veterinary procedure in Lissnaskea.

Too much.

Midnight on a Monday in Belcoo becoming the early hours of a Tuesday in Blacklion. Bullocks with the gift of bilocation belting over and back across the Border, their multiple passports travelling with them in a separate trailer.

In the Inishowen Peninsula, crowds watching the Northern Lights in altered time. Tramping through farmhouses, pausing only to adjust their watches at the back door before resuming where they left off.

Time dated postcards available for purchase.

The narrow Border roads choked with cattle lorries and tourists.

An exhausted Slab Murphy complaining of long hours overwhelming a struggling smuggling community running trucks for 48/7 between the two jurisdictions.

Post-Brexit business would be brisk along the Border.

Imagine such a thing. It could happen in the parallel universe that a no-deal Brexit would bring.

Just another minor consideration to add to the mix.

They remain locked in a political relationship which both long to abandon but cannot for fear of being blamed for causing the break-up

Labour leader Brendan Howlin brought it up during Leaders’ Questions, reminding the Dáil that the European Parliament voted on Tuesday to end daylight savings time. Once that decision is formally adopted by EU leaders, member states will be able to choose what time system to adopt from April 2021.

Difficult position

This would place EU stalwart Ireland “in a difficult position”, said Brendan, as the departing UK won’t give up the current system. (British MEPs reacted angrily to the initial proposal accusing EU bigwigs of behaving like “Time Lords”.)

“What is your intention in this regard and how will Ireland be voting in this matter at the European Council?” he asked.

“Good question,” replied Dr Leo of Castleknock and Gallifrey, who confessed he’s been pondering the whole time thing since the vote in Brussels.

“The truth is the Government hasn’t taken a position on it yet nor have we discussed it.” He’d be delighted to hear what the Dáil has to say on the issue. “Maybe a few indicative votes might be worth experimenting with,” he smirked.

They were all the rage in weak and wobbly Westminster on Wednesday.

In Ireland, on the other hand, “we have plenty of time to make this decision”. But, two years out from crunch time on the time difference, the Taoiseach is adamant about one thing: “I couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t wish to countenance a situation whereby Northern Ireland is in a different time zone to the rest of Ireland.”

DUP notwithstanding.

Not on his watch.

Needling

Meanwhile, the needling between the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil continues. Their parties remain locked in a political relationship which both long to abandon but cannot for fear of being blamed for causing the break-up.

Micheál Martin strongly suspects Varadkar is keeping him in the dark about his Government’s Brexit plans and its discussions in Europe.

The Taoiseach has taken to routinely dismissing these suspicions by accusing Micheál of indulging in conspiracy theories. Leo’s determination to drag him into tin-foil hat territory is not going down well with the Fianna Fáil leader whose party is holding its nose and keeping Fine Gael in Government.

“This nonsense and partisan posturing has to stop. We need basic transparency about what is being discussed,” said Micheál during exchanges on last week’s EU summit meeting.

Instead of being upfront with information, the Taoiseach prefers to use “his new favourite political attack” which is to shout “conspiracy theory” when questioned by the Opposition. “This is his equivalent of the Trumpian habit of attacking any inconvenient question as ‘fake news’.”

Micheál Martin: If it wasn’t for that constricting milestone of Brexit around Fianna Fáil necks, the party would be out the door of Leinster House in a flash and on the election trail. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Micheál Martin: If it wasn’t for that constricting milestone of Brexit around Fianna Fáil necks, the party would be out the door of Leinster House in a flash and on the election trail. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Fianna Fáil leader was thoroughly fed up with Leo’s ungrateful attitude to all the parties in the Dáil as they bite their tongues and row in behind his Government in these uncertain times.

And Fine Gael repays them by exploiting their good intentions by spending the past year attempting to “engineer an election where they could try to present Brexit as a defining division between the parties”.

Yet the entire Opposition has “held back in Brexit-related debates, even in the face of extraordinary provocation”, even as members of the Government routinely squeal “that even the mildest challenge is against the national interest”.

Leo would do well to remember this, warned Micheál, whose humour hasn’t improved one whit since last month when he told Cabinet Ministers to “put aside the snarkiness” when answering legitimate questions about Ireland’s level and state of preparedness for Brexit.

Greater good

Fianna Fáil’s virtuous leader reminded the ingrate Leo that they took a decision not to use the Government’s “demonstrable failures” against them to “force an election”. They did this for the greater good.

There was widespread smirking on the non-Fianna Fáil benches at this pained declaration.

Not only that, but the Government’s supporting confidence-and-supply partners went out of their way to push a narrative in Europe of an Ireland of political peace, harmony and consensus.

And all this while having to cope with Fine Gael’s “enormously damaging campaign of messianic self-regard which the Taoiseach and his more obsequious party members engaged in” when considering special status solutions for Northern Ireland.

Micheál’s speech writer – a person with strong opinions on the North – recycled the messianic line from last month, not that Leo seemed bothered hearing it a second time.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for that constricting milestone of Brexit around Fianna Fáil necks, the party would be out the door of Leinster House in a flash and on the election trail.

They could pull the plug now, if they so desired.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane listened to Micheál outlining his electoral dilemma.

“It’s quite incredible that deputy Martin could read that speech and keep a straight face at the same time,” he marvelled.

It’s not that incredible and he knows it because all the parties share the same zone.

It’s called Daylight Facesaving Time and they will never change it.

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