One of the downsides of our annual festive splurge is the prospect of all those bills coming through the letterbox after Christmas.
It's the other way around for President Michael D Higgins. He faces the unwelcome prospect, yet again, of loads of Bills coming through his letterbox before the big day.
Earlier this year Michael D fired off a letter to the Oireachtas outlining his concern at the high volume of legislation he had been asked sign into law before the summer recess. He said an "overwhelming number of Bills" were sent for his consideration in July, in a repeat of a similar deluge before parliament rose last Christmas.
The Dáil Business Committee and the Seanad Parliamentary Procedures Committee held an emergency meeting on foot of his unprecedented letter. President Higgins complained that 19 Bills were dispatched to him in the first three weeks of July, including nine on the same day. In contrast, just 13 pieces of legislation were presented in the previous six months.
“Similarly, last year, 21 of the total 32 Bills enacted were presented for my consideration in the week approaching the summer and Christmas recess,” he wrote. “A real prospect of not one but two Bills needing to be considered by the Council of State in the days immediately after Christmas Day has emerged on more then one occasion.”
“Having this vital work concentrated into four weeks of the year strikes me as being less than ideal, and I believe, unnecessary,” he added. The President is constitutionally required to sign Bills into law within seven days of receiving them.
Drawing on his parliamentary experience, Michael D referred to the Dáil’s “unseemly end-of-term haste to have Bills concluded”.
Faced with this missive from the Áras, the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad issued a joint response appreciating the president’s concerns and convened a joint meeting for the following day to discuss “how the ordering of business might be addressed from September onwards”.
Sinn Féin’s whip, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who sits on the Business Committee, called it “a welcome intervention”. He claimed the rush to finalise legislation before the break was a Government tactic to push through Bills without scrutiny and that the build-up of Bills needing urgent attention was no accident.
“The president has a solemn responsibility and it is disrespectful to him.”
So here we are again with three weeks to go until Christmas.
At least it should be a less onerous one for Michael D.
But not that much.
It seems the Government’s attachment to last-minute law hasn’t entirely cooled.
There have been some very late sittings recently, along with Friday sittings, as the Dáil attempts to process the latest backlog. However, it looks like the Government will be playing Bad Santa again to the President, or Grumpy Santa, as he is likely to be known around the Áras when the latest Yuletide consignment arrives.
MacLochlainn says the Dáil should factor in more Friday sittings if it means legislation can be dealt with properly during the parliamentary year.
Opposition members of the Business Committee suspect “an intentional strategy in government to ram some legislation through without proper scrutiny. We’re convinced about that.” He says the Residential Tenancies Bill, which is up next Wednesday, is a good example. “We are very suspicious that the Government is intentionally being disorganised, so they can present a bottleneck of legislation to be cleared before we go into the recess.”
On the plus side, he says the volume of Bills heading up to the Phoenix Park won’t be a big as the bundle presented in July.
“The president’s intervention was unprecedented, very powerful and it definitely had an impact, but the Government is still at it. They still can’t help themselves in being a little bit naughty. The Opposition’s view is that they are still taking advantage of the recess but it’s not as bad as it was. So fair play to the President, he definitely made a difference.”
A tale of two pictures
Emotions ran very high in the Fine Gael parliamentary party this week following a tweet from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns about State funding of the greyhound industry. It caused absolute consternation among TDs and Senators.
“Yesterday, there was a debate in the Dáil on the €17.6 million of public money allocated to the greyhound racing industry,” she tweeted. The tweet included a shot of two photos in a picture frame, one of which showed Fine Gael TDs from 2012 posing with their winning greyhound in Shelbourne Park. The tweet added, “Meanwhile, on the walls of the Dáil bar ...”
The TD for Cork South West would not have been aware of the meaning behind the two photographs framed together and hanging on the back wall in the Members’ Bar when she took her picture. Nor would the first-time deputy have been aware of the upset she would cause to Fine Gael politicians by tweeting it out.
Although at least one of them wasted no time in telling her why on Wednesday night as she sat under the picture in question with party colleagues.
The back wall seems to be the favoured spot for hanging photographs of members at golf outings and various other sporting related events. It last made the news when a photograph that included disgraced building society boss Micheal Fingleton at an Oireachtas Golf Society outing was removed from the collection.
The Shelbourne Park photo shares the frame with another taken the previous day featuring members of a Fine Gael greyhound syndicate that was on the go at the time. The late Shane McEntee, the former minister of state who died by suicide, is sitting in the front row. The second photo shows the syndicate at Shelbourne Park the following night after their dog won. Shane (father of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee) is not in the photograph.
The pictures were framed by his colleagues in the weeks after his death and they also put a light on the wall above it.
“We put that up in memory of Shane. I can’t tell you how angry we are about this. This runs very deep in our veins” said one TD yesterday morning. “We can’t believe that photograph is still up on Twitter just to make a political point.”
There is a long-standing convention in Leinster House that photography in not permitted in the bars or restaurants. It is understood a number of FG politicians have spoken to the Ceann Comhairle about what they see as a breach of protocol.
When contacted at lunchtime on Friday, Holly Cairns said she was unaware of the specific circumstances surrounding the photographs other than that some people told her they were taken “around the time he passed away”. She didn’t realise it was a “memorial piece” and stressed she has the “utmost respect for Helen’s loss”.
She tweeted the picture to make a point about public funding being allocated to the greyhound industry by Government politicians who would appear to have an interest in it.
Asked if she would consider taking down the post, she indicated she would think about it. Later in the afternoon it was removed.
“I wasn’t aware the picture in the Dáil bar was a memorial. The caption ‘Oir syndicate Shelbourne park December 2012’ led me to believe it was a picture of the Oireachtas syndicate,” she further tweeted.
“The picture is hanging next to one of the TDs at a horse racing event and another at a golfing tournament. I had no intention of causing offence in any way. The tweet was to highlight the links between sitting members and the greyhound racing industry in light of the €17.6 million allocation passed by the Dáil this week.”
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill quickly, and rather pointedly, followed up. "Thank you for doing this" she tweeted. "It upset a lot of people and that's why we tried to flag it to you quietly on Wednesday. Thank you for now responding."
Former minister Paul Kehoe also responded, asking why it took so long to remove the tweet "when you were made aware of the significance of this photo within 2/3 hours of your original tweet".
A most unfortunate misunderstanding on the part of the Social Democrat TD, and one which distracts unnecessarily from her tireless and important work in championing the welfare of Ireland’s racing greyhounds.
Political own goal
In what has become an annual fixture, Senator Lynn Ruane assembled a team of sporting thoroughbreds from Leinster House for a football challenge match against a selection from the Beacon of Light counselling centre in Tallaght. The service provides an addiction and counselling service for young men in the southwest Dublin area and helps them find direction in life.
The Oireachtas 11 featured a sprinkling of TDs and Senators with the addition of parliamentary staff and ushers to add a bit of heft. They reckoned they were in with a chance this year because last time out the BOL fielded a banger in the form of Keith Fahey, former Republic of Ireland international.
That wasn’t to be. The politicos lost 6-2.
"We were hockeyed," reports Ruane. "To be honest, if it hadn't been for our goalie we probably would have conceded 20 more. And one of our scores was an own goal." The heroic goalie was Stephen Shiel, parliamentary assistant to Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee.
The game was played at the Shamrock Rovers academy in Tallaght, and the FAI rowed in with the loan of an Ireland under-19s team strip. There was a slight issue over the sizing, with Senator Niall Blaney ending up in a kit that appeared to have shrunk in the wash. At least the FAI needn't worry about the strength of the stitching on their shorts.
Also lining out alongside twinkle-toes Ruane were TDs Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Gino Kenny. Aodhán didn't want to take of his beanie hat. "It's the only cap I'll ever win for Ireland," he said. Gino ran the legs off himself to such a degree that he could hardly climb the steps of the Dáil chamber when they returned to Kildare Street for a late vote.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Senator Pippa Hackett, showed some skill as did Senator Lisa Chambers.
Kevin Leavy of the Homeless World Cup came along to add his support, and Irish Times journalists Harry McGee and Pat Leahy threw the usual shapes.