Shane Ross apologises for comparing Sinn Féin TD to a donkey
Minister said he was making analogy and got caught up in heat of debate over green cards for motorists post Brexit
Minster for Transport Shane Ross told Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster she was “like a donkey in the last race at the last fence” unlike her “thoroughbred” party colleagues Pearse Doherty and Aengus O Snodaigh.
His comments followed a scathing attack by Ms Munster, the party’s transport spokeswoman, on the Minister over the controversial green card motorists crossing the border will be required to have as proof of insurance in the event of a no deal Brexit.
Ms Munster traded insults with Mr Ross accusing him of being incompetent and unable to do his job, and said he was “completely blind to the sensitivities” felt by people crossing the border and who will be required to hold an “international certificate”.
She initially made reference to the Minister’s absence from a transport committee because of pressures of work and thanked him for attending the Dáil given his work commitments. She added “I hope you didn’t have to miss your elevenses”.
The Louth TD also compared Mr Ross unfavourably to his colleague Ministers, who she said managed to resolve issues in their area “and you didn’t”.
She told the Minister: “You made no attempt whatsover. You should have been pushing the EU to get the waiver” to ensure such a certificate was not needed “ and you’ve let everyone down Minister”.
“It seems to me that you’re completely blind to the sensitivities around this issue.”
Ms Munster added that she knew from a previous transport committee meeting that he did not know “even the basic bits” and had to be prompted for information,
“You didn’t come in with the information ... you didn’t have the inclination or care, or concern to look into it.
“If other Minsters could resolve issues in their brief and you didn’t, that really says it all.”
But Mr Ross in turn rounded on Ms Munster and said that when the issue was raised during debate on the Brexit Omnibus Bill on Tuesday night her colleagues “were mature, sensitive and constructive”, and representing their communities.
“They were like thoroughbreds in a horse race and you came in as you normally do and you’re like a donkey in the last race, at the last fence. You upset the whole apple cart.”
Ms Munster retorted that the Minister “wants to be personal to mask his overall incompetence”.
Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher called on Mr Ross to use parliamentary language.
Mr Ross later said he was making an analogy but insisted that he and his officials had raised the green card issue directly with the EU. He later apologised for his remark. “I’m sorry for any offence caused by my analogy. I was caught up in the heat of the debate.”
When the issue was raised again later in the Dáil Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there would be a “grace period” for drivers crossing the border into Ireland without a green card, but said he couldn’t make “a commitment on behalf of the government in Northern Ireland, because there isn’t one, and we can’t make commitments on behalf of the UK government”.
Mr Varadkar said that while a green card will be needed as proof of insurance, it is not an offence in Ireland not to have one.
Mr Ross said in a subsequent statement that the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) has advised motorists in Irish registered vehicles they would need a green card travelling to the UK, including to Northern Ireland.
He said the Government has “raised this matter directly with the European Commission seeking agreement from it to set a date from which green cards would not be required as is possible under the EU’s Motor Insurance Directive.
“The Commission has not given agreement to date and the Government continues to pursue the matter with it.”
Earlier in the Dáil he said that the Government had made “no bones about our opinions on the green cards.”
“We do not like it. In political terms it is something which we deplore, but it is not something we can influence outside this jurisdiction.”
During a late night debate in the Dáil on Tuesday the Tánaiste said the European Commission needed to directly resolve with the UK the issue of the “green card” requirement.
Ireland could not sort the matter on its own, he insisted as opposition TDs from border counties highlighted the anger and confusion among motorists over a decision by the insurance industry to issue green cards to ensure motorists crossing the border were covered in a post-Brexit scenario.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty criticised the Government and said this should have been dealt with when the common travel area was being considered.
Mr Coveney insisted however that the Government and the Minister for Transport could not have resolved this problem because it is an EU issue.