Dáil Sketch: Mary Lou conspicuous by her absence

The Sinn Féin women are in the firing line as controversy surrounding Maíria Cahill’s claims rages

Where’s Mary Lou? Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald usually questions Tánaiste Joan Burton on the issues of the day on a Thursday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Where’s Mary Lou? Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald usually questions Tánaiste Joan Burton on the issues of the day on a Thursday. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

“Where’s Mary Lou?” asked Labour’s Robert Dowds when it came to Sinn Féin’s turn yesterday at Opposition Leaders’ Questions.

He was referring to the absence of the party’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who usually questions Tánaiste Joan Burton on the issues of the day on a Thursday. Fellow TD Sandra McLellan was also absent, so Aengus Ó Snodaigh represented the party.

The Sinn Féin women are in the firing line with Gerry Adams as controversy surrounding Maíria Cahill’s claims rages. Their absence was hardly a coincidence.

With the Cahill controversy parked as a Dáil issue until the special debate early next month, the controversial water charges were inevitably raised.

“The plot in relation to Irish Water thickens every day,” said Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen. “It is like a cure searching for a remedy.” He asked the Tánaiste if she thought the Irish Water bonuses were justified.

Temporary bypass

ESB

Burton suggested that the ESB was probably unpopular with people like McGrath, although they subsequently became great defenders of it. “I am not that old,” snapped McGrath.

Burton was upbeat, observing that the people of Roscommon would be able to have a glass of water from their taps in the new year. “That would want to happen,” said an unimpressed Michael Fitzmaurice, Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim.

Government backbenchers, normally happy to return verbal missiles in the direction of the Opposition, were largely silent. Water charges are a sensitive issue with an angry public as they well know.

Burton finally came to the bonus issue. “I do not anticipate any bonus payments in the context of the set-up period,” she said. “A bonus is a reward for work that is done.”

Some backbenchers, their vow of silence temporarily suspended, muttered approval. “Hear, hear,’’ said heckler-in- chief Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan.

Cowen hit back, referring to “this bonus-driven, gold-plated super quango’’, adding that some €700 million had been spent to date without a pipe in the ground being fixed anywhere in the country.

He accused the Tánaiste of “going round the houses’’ on the bonus issue. Did she agree with them or did she not ?

Burton decided that attack was the best form of defence, referring to Fianna Fáil’s “audacity” in forgetting it had agreed to a water tax when in government.

Addressing the all-male Fianna Fáil benches, she said: “When the troika came to Ireland, the guys opposite – they are all guys – decided to sign off.”

Cowen replied: “You guys and you gals put this in place.”

Burton turned her attention to the Sinn Féin benches, observing the absence of its women TDs. “I see Sinn Féin is all guys today as well,’’ she said. “I am glad to see deputies Maureen O’Sullivan and Joan Collins are here.”

Minister of State Paudie Coffey remarked: “Deputy McDonald has gone awol.”

With water charges and gender issues dealt with, some clarity and consensus emerged on other issues. Burton was reminded of her remarks about those protesting against the water charges sporting mobile phones and cameras.

Protests filmed

She said she was a keen photographer herself, which was why it was great to see people with that kind of equipment.

The consensus emerged when all sides agreed to the Government proposal to take next week off. Who says that TDs cannot sometimes park their differences and agree on important issues?