In an unprecedented development yesterday, Peter Mathews was not thrown out of the Dáil. Shocked TDs watched in disbelief as the deputy for Dublin South interrupted, protested and complained but failed to get his marching orders from the Ceann Comhairle.
Peter has been feeling the pain of the Dáil sole trader for some time now. He is one of a handful of Independents who are not aligned to one of the many groupings fighting for ground ahead of the election. Peter likes to talk, but he has scant opportunity.
He has decided that when it comes to enlightening the nation on a wide range of issues, the Order of Business (when the House agrees its programme for the day and TDs try to score political points by asking questions on pending legislation) is his best bet.
It’s not going well.
Rules is rules and poor Peter has become a martyr to the standing orders.
Most opposition deputies know that the Ceann Comhairle won’t tolerate a speech during the Order of Business, but if they couch their question on legislation with a loaded preamble, they can get away with it. And slide in a few digs on the Taoiseach in the process.
Mathews has never quite grasped the routine. He wants to make weighty pronouncements on the big issues and can’t understand why the Ceann Comhairle keeps ruling out him out of order.
On Tuesday, after yet another bout of bickering with Seán Barrett, he was told to sling his hook. He wanted to make a short contribution on promissory bonds, bankruptcy, the continuing incarceration of Ibrahim Halawa, and the National Pension Reserve Fund.
The Ceann Comhairle wanted to know what this had to do with pending legislation.
Matters deteriorated rapidly.
Peter had to walk. “This is really upsetting,” he sighed before stomping towards the doors (again) with a heartfelt “Oh, for God’s sake!”
He appeared again yesterday morning. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Like the previous day, and all the ones before, had never happened. He sat and waited to be called. The Ceann Comhairle kept things going at a brisk pace. Micheál Martin had his usual whinge about the impotency of parliament. He said the Government was persistently undermining the Dáil.
“It’s the law of large numbers,” shrugged Peter, shaking his head sadly, quietly waiting his turn.
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, standing in for the absent Gerry Adams, had his say on the International Protection Bill. A procession of Government and Opposition TDs asked about the progress of various Bills, from the Sale of Alcohol Bill to the Road Traffic Bill to the Schools Admissions Bill.
Then the Ceann Comhairle brought proceedings to a close and moved on to the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, calling on Mattie McGrath to introduce it.
Mathews interjected and said he hadn’t been called to speak even though he had “indicated” his intention.
The Ceann Comhairle didn’t want to entertain him.
“Resume your seat, thank you. Resume your seat. Resume your seat, please.
“This is undemocratic,” protested Peter.
“Resume your seat. Resume. Resume your seat. I tell you, deputy, will you resume your seat when I’m on my feet.”
Peter looked around. “I’m appealing to the House at this stage.”
But they didn’t find him appealing.
Ceann Comhairle: “I’m on my feet.”
Mathews: “I’m appealing to the House.”
Ceann Comhairle: “I’m on my feet. I’m on my feet. I’m on my feet.” His poor feet.
Barrett told Peter he would “consider” calling him when he decided to apologise to the Dáil for his “behaviour, not just yesterday, but other days, totally ignoring the chair and the rules of this House.”
Peter, like a sulky pup, refused to sit. He said the Ceann Comhairle had ignored him.
“No. I did not ignore you.”
“You did ignore me. I object to this.”
Barrett mentioned an apology.
“Apologise for what?”
“For your behaviour.”
Mathews bridled. “My behaviour has been absolutely flawless and polite.”
“Oh yeah. Well, thanks,” dripped Barrett.
Peter went straight to the top.
“I’m appealing to the Taoiseach. Taoiseach?”
Enda tried to stop smiling. “Yes, I’m hearing you.”
The Ceann Comhairle was getting exasperated. “Sorry Taoiseach, it’s none of your business. Eh, with the greatest of respect to you.”
He tried once more to call on Mattie.
“Deputy Mac-Mac-Ma-Ma-McGrath,” he croaked.
Mathews said he wanted to ask the Taoiseach a question. The Taoiseach wasn’t listening. Peter asked Enda a question about legislation anyway.
He was told to sit down or get expelled again.
“Please, please. A Cheann Comhairle, this is just absurd.”
But Barrett was not for turning. “You’ll be taking another walk today and this time you might be out for three days. Now resume your seat and when you apologise to this House, I will consider calling you in the future.”
Peter said he would apologise to the House, if the House asked him to. But it hadn’t. The Ceann Comhairle threw in the towel.
“Thank you. Now sit down and don’t disturb people. I call deputy McGrath.”
A very serious Mattie bustled to his feet, all set to introduce his Bill.
Peter was fuming. “I’ve been very fair. This is absurd,” he harrumphed.
“Thank you. Go raibh maith agat a Ceann Comhairle,” began Mattie.
That’s as far as he got.
The absurdity penny had just dropped with Barrett. And now he was the one interrupting.
"Your behaviour is absurd."
“You’ve ignored a parliamentarian elected to this House,” countered Peter.
“Well, I will continue to do it as long as you totally ignore the rules of this House.”
“Go raibh maith agat,” said Mattie.
“I don’t ignore the rules. I’ve always obeyed the rules,” retorted Mathews.
“We’ll leave it for others to decide that.”
Right so, challenged Peter. “Please take a vote on it.”
“Oooooh!” went the deputies.
“I wouldn’t go that far, Peter,” cried the Chief Whip. He didn’t. Mattie rose again.
“Thank you, a Ceann Comhairle.”