Don't mention the war, unless the German brings it up


DÁIL SKETCH: German parliamentarian could have advice for troubled marriage of Fine Gael and Labour

IT WAS a case of don’t mention the war. And James Reilly looked relieved at the reprieve from a mention of his primary healthcare war – at least for a couple of hours.

The first item of the Dáil day was, in fact, Europe and the first address ever to the House by an EU parliament president.

Martin Schultz was in town in advance of Ireland taking up the EU presidency in January. The Taoiseach outlined his issues for Ireland’s six months at the helm, and the “legitimate expectation” that his fellow member state leaders would stick to their June EU commitment to include Ireland in the bank debt relief programme.

Enda told Mr President that one of the Government’s priority preparatory issues before taking up the presidency is to establish good working relationships with the European parliament. Enda might start by working on his own parliamentary colleagues, as just over half showed up for the president’s address. By the time the session ended, however, almost two hours later – 50 minutes over schedule – it was no surprise there were hardly more than a dozen left in the chamber.

Mr Schultz, though, was quick to gain the approbation of the Dáil in an effective speech, especially when he expressed his support for Ireland’s inclusion in the debt relief programme agreed at the EU leaders’ meeting in June.

Those remarks won him sustained applause.

That agreement had been controversially thrown into doubt when three finance ministers said the relief should not apply to “legacy debt”. But Mr Schultz reminded EU leaders, the “highest body” in Europe, that if they wanted the trust of EU citizens they had to keep their promises.

“Hear, hear” resounded around the Dáil.

There was no “hear, hear”, however, when he mentioned another issue – that of the financial transaction tax, most unfavoured on Irish shores.

Mr Schultz recognised Ireland’s reluctance but was in favour of it himself so the financial system could pay towards the economic crisis. He said those who wanted to introduce it should be allowed to do so through enhanced co-operation.

A man obviously unafraid to mention the tough issues, the German parliamentarian even mentioned the war, the second World War, that is.

Highlighting the project “unique in human history” that the EU was, he said it turned enemies into friends, and dictatorships into democracies, “so we, the Germans, after all the atrocities that happened in the name of our nation, could get back to the family of democratic nations”.

With some more serious wit, he even compared being a member of the EU to being in a marriage – “true commitment is proven when times get tough”.

Perhaps he might have some advice for the troubled marriage of Fine Gael and Labour and that other war that eventually had to be mentioned – James Reilly’s chosen primary health care centres.

Eamon Gilmore, in his first Dáil questions on the controversy – he was away at the UN in New York when Róisín Shortall resigned – insisted he had been assured by the Minister for Health, the chief executive of the HSE and the secretary general of the Department of Health that no Minister had any influence or impact on the locations chosen.

Challenged by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, the Tánaiste took the Taoiseach’s favourite response that he was in no position to lecture when he was the architect of the HSE.

The FF leader retorted: “So I’m responsible for Deputy Shortall resigning on your watch? I’m to blame for that? Keep repeating the mantra.”

The Tánaiste was challenged by Mary Lou McDonald on whether he had listened to his minister of state’s concerns. Evading that question, Eamon waxed lyrical about the Government’s healthcare reforms. She asked him to stop the “waffle”. He retorted: “It’s not waffle when a sick child has to go from Billy to Jack in our healthcare system.”

Another skirmish ended. But is it the end of the primary care war?