It was the snow. Sent them mad.
Sensibly, given that Dublin and much of the country was under a code red weather alert, Leinster House put up the shutters by teatime and proceedings in the Dáil were abandoned after lunch following a very fractious episode of questions to the Taoiseach.
As the session went on, there was a decidedly caustic and personal edge to some of the exchanges.
Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry started it.
While he likes creating scenes and is an irredeemable notice box, it’s fairly clear that the Sligo deputy didn’t intend his description of the Government’s recent Project 2040 extravaganza on his home patch as “a €45,000 Goebbels-style launch” to be a slur on the Jewish community and an attempt to trivialise the Holocaust.
Indeed, there are suspicions that MacSharry took a rhetorical leaf out of Labour bootboy Alan Kelly’s book and simply repeated the Goebbels remarks he heard Kelly make on radio yesterday.
But the minute he mentioned the infamous Nazi propagandist’s name, Fine Gael TDs began to roar.
Minister of State Brendan Griffin was on his feet protesting. “You’re a disgrace . . . The use of Nazism is completely out of order. Withdraw!”
Mad Mac, fresh from Fury Road, sat back with his arms folded, enjoying his unexpected moment of notoriety.
“Disgusting slur,” said the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.
“Belittling the Holocaust,” said the Taoiseach, as his deputies cried foul.
MacSharry was defiant. “It’s a political charge and drawing an analogy to an actual event in history is fine,” he said, bumptiously.
“An anti-Semitic slur on politicians,” concluded Harris.
As Marc battled to talk about “the destruction of rural Ireland”, the Fine Gael benches went doolally.
Harris continued shouting about anti-Semitism and attacks on victims of the Holocaust and Regina Doherty, the Minister for Social Protection, told MacSharry he was letting his party down.
Bernard Durkan stood up for a spot of indignant spluttering while Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan egged on his colleagues while howling for an apology.
MacSharry looked quite pleased with himself.
“It was a metaphor. A ME-TA-PHORRRR!”
The Minister for Justice rose. “It seems the overexcited state of Deputy MacSharry from time to time has been noted in Sligo as well as here.”
Flanagan noted that, for all his talk about the Sligo launch, he didn’t actually gone to it.
“Incorrect,” cried Mad Mac, triumphantly. “I was shoved down the back though.”
Which is true. All the rubbernecking Fianna Fáilers were consigned to steerage that day.
“Deputies, you are bringing the House into appalling disrepute,” wailed the Ceann Comhairle.
Bernard Durkan said the reference to Goebbels was “a sneer on the House”.
Flanagan’s dander was up. “Get him to withdraw,” he demanded.
The chair said MacSharry hadn’t directed his remark to an individual. It was “a broad political charge using the type of phraseology” that he uses “from time to time”.
The Fine Gaelers were incensed.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, three times. “Shocking,” squeaked Patrick O’Donnell on continuous loop.
The chair wondered if MacSharry wanted to volunteer an apology?
So Marc stood up, buttoned his jacket, composed himself and got ready to hold forth again as Social Democrat Róisín Shortall started telling the Fine Gael TDs to stop wasting time. The noise level rose. Marc got ready for his close-up. Behind him, frustrated colleagues could see the clock running down and started waving their plastic numbers in the air.
The Ceann Comhairle, distracted, ordered MacSharry to sit down. He looked confused.
The Fine Gaelers began roaring at Róisín. Simon Harris, still shouting about anti-Semitism, asked her if she thought the comments acceptable. She pleaded with the two “Civil War” parties to stop the messing.
“This is not about the Civil War. This is about the Holocaust,” intoned Harris.
“Shockin’,” said O’Donovan.
The Ceann Comhairle had had enough and took to his heels.
In his absence, Shortall told O’Donovan to “shut up”. “Imagine if a man said that?” the Limerick TD shot back, scandalised.
When the sitting resumed, there was no time for any more questions. MacSharry’s colleagues looked fit to strangle him. Eugene Murphy slammed his number (seven) down on the ledge in disgust and a glum Michael Moynihan left without getting to use his number (six).
Former minister Alan Shatter tweeted afterwards that the “silly and offensive comment” from MacSharry was “neither an attack on the Jewish community nor the victims of the Holocaust” and their deaths should not be misused “in a petty Dáil party-political exchange”.
But later, during Questions to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar resurrected the issue and called on Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Labour’s Joan Burton to ask MacSharry and Alan Kelly to apologise for their “Goebbels” statements.
He also, rather unnecessarily, demanded to know if they agreed with what they said.
“This is a reference to the Holocaust . . . and I think belittling the Holocaust is beneath contempt,” Varadkar told them.
Both Martin and Burton eloquently voiced their absolute abhorrence of the use of such terms. The Fianna Fáil leader could not have been more clear in distancing himself from the language used by MacSharry, which he hates and would never want to be associated with.
They both felt the Taoiseach is sore because of the adverse reaction to the launch of his “prize project” . There were sharp exchanges.
“Your problem is you don’t like it when hard words are said about things that you and your Government gets up to . . . and what happens then is you get overly partisan and you get nasty,” said the Fianna Fáil leader. “There’s a bad streak there, Taoiseach.”
“I don’t think what you said brings any honour to this House,” declared Burton. She was stung because Leo remarked she didn’t apologise for Kelly’s language. But Joan said she hadn’t heard that morning’s interview.
Leo spoke very dismissively of her “claim” that she hadn’t heard the programme and suggested she might listen to it.
“Perhaps you are a little bit thin-skinned,” Joan suggested.
Mary Lou McDonald, who, like the others, is highly suspicious of the way the Government is publicising the national plan and making Fine Gael look good in the process, made the most sensible point of the day.
“I think we should beware of contrived outrage on any side.”
Maybe it was just the snow, making them all mad.