Martin invokes Yeats in attack over health insurance costs

Fianna Fáil leader says Coalition making life unbearable for hard-pressed families

A prolific poet and a manipulative mandarin featured in Dáil exchanges yesterday.

The worlds of W B Yeats and Sir Humphrey might seem far apart, but they blended as the Opposition hounded the Government on the rising cost of health insurance and increased charges for FOI requests.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke of the drift away of thousands of people from private health insurance. And, then, he invoked Yeats's words about the vulnerability of the centre. "The centre will not hold if the haemorrhage of people from the health insurance market continues,'' he said. "In the meantime, the Government is making life unbearable for hard-pressed families through this unfolding, incoherent ad hoc policy.''

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, a former teacher, observed that it was the second time in a fortnight that Martin, a former teacher, had quoted Yeats in the House. Kenny said he thought that was good.


But while complimenting Martin on his Yeatsian references, he rejected his argument on health insurance.

Kenny stressed the importance of equalisation and community rating, a policy pursued by a Fianna Fáil-led government in which Martin served. He stressed the importance of protecting older people with health insurance.

Kenny accused Martin of implying that the policy pursued by a Fianna Fáil-led government could be abandoned.

“I did not,’’ said Martin. “Do not be dishonest.’’ The language of a celebrated poet had been replaced by the traditional rhetoric of the cut and thrust of politics. “Even in his own days as minister for health, the deputy adhered to that,’’ said Kenny. “That is something we have to support.’’

Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher suggested the Taoiseach was having a "Roscommon moment'', a reference to Kenny's general election pledge to retain facilities at Roscommon hospital. This led to the departure of local Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten from the party and a tsunami of grief for the other local Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan.

Feighan had enough of the Opposition claims about broken promises relating to the hospital. “I will bring the deputy to Roscommon,’’ he said. “I am sick and tired of Opposition members taking cheap shots.’’

Kelleher, from Cork, looked like somebody in no hurry to be given the grand tour of the hospital by Feighan.

Later, Martin tackled Kenny about "sneaky'' amendments to the FOI legislation, arguing there should be a consultation process in advance of the Bill being brought to a conclusion. This was before the announcement of a modification of the legislation by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin. Suggesting the influence of the mandarins, Martin claimed that "what has happened here is that Sir Humphrey has scored a very late penalty, and has scored it well''.

Kenny said: “Sir Humphrey put the ball wide’’, adding that the FOI Bill had been around for a long time.

The sporting metaphors suggested Kenny and Martin have been watching too many Roy Keane press conferences. Better to stick to Yeats and Sir Humphrey.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times