Miriam Lord: Temperature is self-raising in heated row

After much roaring, Seán Barrett abandoned the chair and decided to suspend the House

The Dáil has been suspended twice after an exchange between the Taoiseach and several other TDs.

 

It all began with a silly quip from a Taoiseach high on scones and jam. And then the situation escalated rapidly until chaos and confusion engulfed the Dáil chamber. Gerry Adams, with uncharacteristic understatement, called it “a little debacle”.

It had been a routine enough session of Leaders’ Questions until Paul Murphy returned to his favourite subject – the water charges. Enda, whose pre-election parliamentary strategy is to reduce the Dáil to irrelevance by being utterly boring, couldn’t resist a few swipes at the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD.

Murphy wanted details on how many people have paid their water bills. A simple question, he thought. Kenny told him to ask Irish Water. They’d know. To be helpful, he pointed out that Irish Water has been running information sessions for TDs and Senators on the Leinster House campus for the last few months. Every Wednesday, in fact. Paul might care to “toddle along.”

Enda was in a good mood. He had been out to the TV3 studio for their morning show and had a chat on the couch with Mark Cagney about serious things. Then he crossed the studio to the kitchen, pretended to help Catherine from Odlums make scones and small talk while co-presenter Alan Hughes nearly exploded with excitement.

So no, he wasn’t going to be dictated to by Paul Murphy, who feels he can do what he likes in the Dáil because he thinks “he is Julius Caesar.”

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley was quick off the, er, Marcus. “Et tu, Blueshirt” he said to Enda. And there it might have fizzled out, had it not been for Murphy’s colleague, Ruth Coppinger, who was not happy with the non-answers served up by the Taoiseach.

“What’s the point of Leaders’ Questions?” she thundered. “To tell you where to go,” shot back Enda, with what looked like a little wink. But it might have been a bit of flour in his eye.

It was a bit cheeky, to say the least, even if the Taoiseach could plausibly argue that he was merely referring them to the Irish Water information stand. Even if he wasn’t.

Cue consternation. Independent Róisín Shortall was first to erupt and quickly joined by a similarly volcanic Coppinger, with Micheál Martin rumbling up behind them. They had never been so insulted and disrespected in their lives. Did the Ceann Comhairle hear what the Taoiseach said? Did he? He would have to demand that the comment be withdrawn immediately. After all, as Ruth pointed out, he isn’t behind the door when asking her to withdraw comments.

After a protracted period of roaring, Seán Barrett abandoned the chair and suspended the House. By time he returned, indignation levels were through the roof.

Flounced out

Róisín, disgusted at the disrespect shown to a fellow TD, exited the chamber in high dudgeon.

“Round three” chirruped Finian McGrath when business resumed. Ruth Coppinger persisted. “There was a remark directed at myself that was not in order.”

Nothing to do with the Ceann Comhairle. He didn’t hear it. Perhaps she should check the record and then make a complaint.

So, harrumphed the AAA deputy, some TDs are more important that others. Barrett bridled. Nobody was going to accuse him of bias. Withdraw that remark immediately!

“Ooooh, so I have to withdraw the comment” exclaimed Coppinger, astonished. “Hilarious. This is a farce. An absolute farce.” She wasn’t wrong there.

Barrett told her “to learn some manners, as well as the standing orders.”

At which point, Ruth and Paul swept out, disgusted. And that should have been the end of the row, only that the Taoiseach, outlining the order of business for the day, proposed that the House rise after lunch until 7.30pm.

Micheál Martin hit the roof, which had already taken a lot of punishment. “Let me speak,” he cried. Micheál’s voice goes up high when he’s annoyed and so too does the Ceann Comhairle’s. As they argued heatedly over procedure, they began to sound like escapees from the Vienna Boys’ choir.

Enda, as he did for most of this very never-ending rumpus, smiled beatifically. When people are fighting with the Ceann Comhairle, he isn’t being asked hard questions.

Dementia strategy

There was utter confusion. “Are we dealing with the order of business now?” asked Gerry Adams.

“Dementia” said Finian.

Micheál demanded he be heard. “With respect, a Ceann Comhairle, I’m the leader of the Fianna Fáil party and I’d like to know the timetable for today.”

“Has the Taoiseach suspended the Order of Business” asked Gerry, plaintively.

“Are we going to have today now?” asked Willie.

“What exactly is being suspended?” asked Gerry.

Government backbenchers heckled the Fianna Fáil leader with gusto. Micheál complained bitterly to the chair and told him he might do something about Emmet Stagg shouting over at him. Don’t lecture me, said the CC.

On and on they went. Micheál complained about an earlier debate shutting down early. “Look behind you” said Enda, pointing out that his deputies weren’t in the House for it.

On and on they went.

It was pointless. Enda sat back and thought of scones. And then Peter Mathews intervened. “Reflecting for a moment . . . ” he began, and there was a rush to the doors.

He didn’t see why debates on other issues could fill the void. “Let us start thinking creatively.”

The Ceann Comhairle sighed. What had this got to do with anything?

“I am speaking under the general umbrella of proposed legislation, in the omnibus sense” said Peter.

“What are you on about?” asked Mary Mitchell O’Connor, puzzled, as Peter pleaded for the voice of reason to be heard and reluctantly sat down.

Bernard Durkan began to clear his throat. Peter saw his chance.

“May I get back on my feet? This is like line dancing. The whole thing is absurd.”

And he trudged out of the chamber, looking sad.