All hands to the pumps as Hogan treads rising water


DÁIL SKETCH:NOTHING WRONG with the well-greased hydraulics in Leinster House.

When the Government hits the button today, the escape hatch will open without a hitch.

And not a day too soon.

Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil will pour gratefully through the gap, gulping for air as Dáil Éireann rises for the Easter recess.

A merciful release, for they’ve been drowning in a sea of accusation and recrimination during a turbulent final week.

But they won’t be able to rest on their oars.

Now, it’s a case of all hands to the bilge pumps as deputies work to dispel the damage caused to their parties by the household charge fiasco and the Mahon tribunal report.

Meanwhile, a buoyant Sinn Féin, along with the various Independents, will seek to stay well above the swell while shouting discouragement to the scramblers below in the hope of keeping them all at sea.

The Government’s current predicament is all of their own making: they landed themselves in choppy water with a masterclass in how not to do synchronised swimming.

They should have been performing in unison on the issue of the household charge. Instead, Fine Gael and Labour have been completely unco-ordinated. Phil “House” Hogan, the Minister in charge, splashes in his deflating water wings with all the grace and subtlety of a concrete block.

Fianna Fáil was braced for the backwash from the Mahon report. But it hit with a ferocity which stunned them. Their aggressive effort in the last few days to administer the kiss of life to the party has been frantic.

Independent deputy Maureen O’Sullivan summed up their approach on day two of the debate on the tribunal report: “It was disquieting to listen yesterday to Micheál Martin speaking in the House. While he acknowledged wrongdoing, it seemed to have been a case of his saying: ‘Moriarty found out more about you than Mahon did about us.’ That is not the way forward. The way forward is to say we will never let what occurred happen again, mean this and take action to ensure it.”

The Taoiseach waded in from China on the household charge. “The law is there, I expect that people will obey that law,” he ordained darkly from Beijing, where they know how to make people obey the law.

Enda would probably love to save the exchequer some money on air fares and return home on a slow boat from China, but unfortunately, he has to get back in time for the Fine Gael party conference tomorrow.

House Hogan, meanwhile, lives in hope that the people will experience “a moment of solidarity” and pay up before this weekend’s deadline.

With this maelstrom of anger and confusion swirling around Leinster House, it was remarkably calm at the centre yesterday.

Once the usual spray thrown up by Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business died down, they got down to discussing the tribunal report.

For all the fevered comment it has generated, the storm had all but blown itself out by the time it got to the Dáil chamber. This was not unexpected. Dáil debates have an anaesthetising effect: they seem to drain the energy from the most contentious of topics.

Fifteen years in the making for a three-day damp squib in the Dáil.

Words, and more words, wash over us in a wall of sound. The chamber empties and all the passion gurgles down a sinkhole to surface in some other forum, usually the Saturday and Sunday papers.

That being said, the tribunal findings lent a sharper edge to the playful paddling that passes for Leaders’ Questions.

Micheál Martin tried to embarrass the Tánaiste over what he said was the “suppression” of a number of specific planning inquiries established by John Gormley, the last government’s minister for the environment.

“Is Deputy Martin interested in corruption now?” Pat Rabbitte sweetly inquired.

The Fianna Fáil leader’s attempts to put House Hogan on a par with his party’s transgressors were badly holed by sneering torpedoes from the Government side.

“You’ll be in An Taisce before the week is out!” chortled Rabbitte.

Eamon Gilmore saw Micheál standing on the burning deck and pounced: “I can understand why Fianna Fáil is on the back foot on planning this week, with the debate on the Mahon tribunal. It is classic political defence to make attack the best form of defence.” Throughout this Mahon debate, Fianna Fáil has attacked.

High-stakes poker for the party, where the strategy seemed to be: “We’ll give you Mahon and throw in a Moriarty and see you a Denis O’Brien.” Willie O’Dea took the opportunity to have a crack at Sinn Féin and the Quinlivan affair, which ended his career as a minister in the last government.

He said Sinn Féin criticised him in the Dáil over his involvement.

“I wish to lay down a marker, in that I will take no criticism on standards from the spawn of murderers, robbers, extortionists and purveyors of every sort of crime imaginable. When Sinn Féin, of all parties, talks about standards, it sticks in my craw.”

Fianna Fáil put on a fascinating display yesterday, pulling off the feat of managing to be both contrite and angrily hard done by.

When the few TDs who made it into the chamber weren’t sitting in their seats like stunned mullets, they were thrashing around like sharks at anything that moved.

But in the end, few in Leinster House appeared to be paying much attention to the speechifying. Outside, it was sunny. Inside, the debate was slowly sucking the oxygen from the aftermath of Mahon.

That escape hatch can’t open soon enough for them today.