Miriam Lord: ‘You’re a nasty piece of work’ - Micheál and Leo clash again as Dáil winds down

Leo opts not to spoil the mood with election date while campaign supplies are stockpiled

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has clashed with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over the attendance record of former Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

As it was the last day before the Yuletide break, Aengus Ó Snodaigh broke out his Christmas tie which predictably broke into a few tinny bars of Jingle Bells to delight of all the TDs in the chamber.

A mere handful of them, but they enjoyed the moment.

Aengus’s Christmas tie is something of a Dáil tradition now. Ever since 2015, when he was wearing one in advance of Sinn’s Féin’s festive knees-up and it went off during Questions on Promised Legislation, he has premiered a new version on the final sitting day of the year.

This time he showcased a red and white number with little trees at the bottom. After asking the Taoiseach a question in Irish, Aengus pressed a button on his tie and set off the polyphonic tune. The season was officially upon us.

“Is maith liom do carbhat” said Leo. (I like your tie.)

For most of the day, the atmosphere was far from seasonal in the Dáil, despite the Leas Cheann Comhairle kicking off proceedings with Christmas greetings from the Chair. The nearest they got to the spirit of the holiday was dedicating most of Leaders’ Questions to children’s issues.

‘Keep us sane’

The cost of childcare, along with problems insuring creches was the main topic for discussion. Not the most joyous of topics, but an important one.

Pat “The Cope” Gallagher thanked all the staff in Leinster House for their support during the year and expressed his “sincere thanks” to all Members of the House, including the Taoiseach and the various leaders, for their co-operation “most of the time” .

The Taoiseach thanked everyone “for the phenomenal work” they’ve done over the last 12 months.

“I really hope everyone has a phenomenal Christmas and a great break. We will see everyone in the new year.”

He didn’t mention a general election. No point in spoiling the moment.

Micheál Martin added his good wishes to all the staff, in particular “those who feed us consistently and well, both in the various restaurants and in the bar, and keep us sane from time to time in this very exciting House”.

The Fianna Fáil leader made a point of wishing the Taoiseach “a very restful and peaceful Christmas”, predicting with rare understatement that next year will be “exciting and interesting”.

Mary Lou McDonald was nursing a bad cold and a sore throat, a tube of Rubex tablets on the ledge before her. Labour’s Brendan Howlin slipped a throat lozenge across the aisle to her when she had a coughing fit.

The Sinn Féin leader recorded her appreciation of the hard work and diligence of the staff and hoped all the leaders can enjoy a good rest as the Dáil heads towards an election. “Can I wish them well under the mistletoe as they snuggle up together over another Christmas season,” she declared, upsetting those of a delicate disposition.

The Labour leader also thought it important for TDs to have “a restful sojourn” before everyone goes mad with election fever. “As others have said, we probably face into more challenging times, perhaps early in the new year. I don’t mind winter elections – we have had winter ones and other ones, and whatever comes, comes.”

Just get on with it, sighed Mattie McGrath. He complained that the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader are writing love letters over and back to each other, trying to decide the election date. “Get down and talk and let us out of our anguish. Give us a date, whatever it is and let the romance begin for a new government.”

Double-jobbing Dara

Around the House, which sat late to avoid going into a third day in the week before Christmas, TDs and senators scurried in and out to the car parks with boxes of supplies, stocking up for the impending campaign.

The Members restaurant was packed to the rafters with politicians and guests enjoying afternoon tea. There was a leak in the roof and the rain poured into to one corner, but it didn’t spoil the fun. There was another leak in the back of the Visitors’ Bar, which was crammed with politicians, staff and journalists celebrating their temporary release.

Back in the chamber, to round off the year, Micheál Martin got in his final swipe of 2019 on the matter of Dara Murphy.

As political parties get a headage payment for each of their TDs, how much money did Fine Gael get from the exchequer for Dara when he was absent from his Dáil work and employed full time for two years, with his Taoiseach’s blessing, on another job in Europe?

“Perhaps Dara Murphy’s good fortune was that, unlike Deputy [Maria] Bailey, no opinion poll was done showing him to be a liability to Fine Gael,” Micheál mused, adding he isn’t impressed by the Taoiseach defending Murphy’s cavalier treatment of the national parliament “by going on the personal attack . . . These are legitimate questions that deserve legitimate answers.”

And once again, the Taoiseach went on the attack, batting for double-jobbing Dara’s honour.

“The impression has been created that he was totally absent from the Dáil for two years. That, of course, is not true. In fact, he was present for more votes in this calendar year than Deputy Martin was.” (But that’s the only thing he did: vote to save his political meal ticket.)

“Outrageous carry on,” spluttered Micheál.

And if you take the last six months, the Fianna Fáil leader and Dara Murphy attended for the same number of votes, continued Leo, still being deliberately obtuse on an issue which has annoyed voters so much in a way the jiggery pokery over Dáil votes has not.

Counting game

The wayward button pushers weren’t working overseas while collecting every allowance and expense legitimately due to them. The only duty Murphy fulfilled in the House was to turn up and vote for Fine Gael.

No wonder the Taoiseach never called him out on his dereliction of Dáil duty but dutiful collection of Dáil money.

“You’re a nasty piece of work” growled Micheál.

“And these are just the facts. They’re the facts, I’m sorry deputy,” said Leo, matter of factly.

“I am here every Tuesday and Wednesday and you know that,” fumed Micheál.

“Rather than all the name-calling, the Deputy should not be so sensitive,” the Taoiseach sweetly replied.

“Be fair,” pleaded his Opposite number.

But no.

“If you’re so willing to be critical of former members of my parliamentary party, you should at least be willing to account for existing members of your parliamentary party who are now under investigation,” persisted Leo, still trying to absolve himself of his part in the enterprise.

By the way, he was right. Dara turned up (then skidaddled) to vote on 51 occasions as opposed to party leader Micheál Martin’s 51 occasions.

Oh, and Taoiseach Varadkar trailed them all. He voted 36 times.

So what?

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