Miriam Lord: Taoiseach does ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ as talk of stagflation turns to fatcatflation

Hopes high that Leo and Pearse will feature on Katie Taylor undercard at Croke Park

Before the cost-of-living crisis, stagflation was what happened to the deer in the Phoenix Park because stupid people were feeding them sweets and crisps.

Now the Government says stagflation is what will happen if the exchequer feeds too much money into the system to help ease the pain of spiralling prices. This will burst the economy.

None of the three Coalition leaders were in the Dáil to explain yet again to an unconvinced Opposition that nothing good ever comes out of chasing inflation and if people can just hang on until the autumn there will be a Big Bang Budget along to cushion them against a hardship winter. Wednesday used to be a big deal in the chamber with a lengthy agenda to cover, RTÉ’s live television coverage of Leaders’ Questions to make the main players feel important and the Taoiseach’s midday set-piece there as the centrepiece.

It seems like the party leaders can’t be bothered to turn up or fill in on Wednesdays any more.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan went down to Killarney to talk about “decarbonising Kerry”. (The loud thud you have just heard is the Healy-Rae brothers passing out with the shock.)

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was in Waterford at a sod-turning ceremony for a new cheese factory. It must have been an eye-opener for him to visit the site of an actual cheese factory, as opposed to his social-media operation, which is only a metaphorical one.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin travelled to Mayo to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a pharmaceutical company in Castlebar, swanning around the town thereafter for the photo ops, wreathed in a swarm of local Fianna Fáil councillors and Senator Lisa Chambers.

He posed for photos with random babies, took selfies with young wans and accosted respectable older ladies in a cake shop. In the Atlantic Technical University he was photographed conducting a serious conversation with three student nurses and a skeleton in a red T-shirt. He jumped on an exercise bike in the Lough Lannagh Leisure Centre, trying to look nonchalant in his navy business suit, lower half pedalling away and upper half doing what appeared to be the actions for I’m a Little Teapot.

What’s going on, lads? We blame the pernicious influence of Boris Johnson. All that was missing from the three jaunts were high-vis vests.

The run-in to the next election is starting ridiculously early – an extra worry that an already put-upon populace does not need at this difficult time.

But back to the humdrum Dáil, where the absence of the three leaders was disappointing for many reasons. No Taoiseach meant no Mary Lou and this on a day when it emerged that the nation’s highest-paid public servants are about to have their pay restored to pre-austerity levels as part of the unwinding of the Fempi pay cuts imposed during the financial crisis.

It was a missed opportunity for the Sinn Féin leader to do a reprise of her popular “Fat cats in the old boys’ club getting outrageous pay hikes and living high on the hog, the like of which has not been seen since the bad old days of Fianna Fáil and the Galway tent and you just don’t get it Taoiseach, do you?” number.

No Eamon Ryan in the chamber deprived Mattie McGrath, the Healy-Raes and the rest of the rural Independents of the chance to sneer uproariously at the leader of the Green Party, a man they absolutely despise, but in a non-personal way. A terrible disappointment for them. Although they bucked up considerably when Carol Nolan questioned the stand-in Minister on what the Government intends doing about restricting the flow of immigrants to Ireland which is “severely undermining” the provision of “even the bare minimum of emergency accommodation and shelter to its own citizens and those genuinely fleeing war”.

No Tánaiste meant no Leo Varadkar versus Pearse Doherty rematch, although they spent the morning shadow-boxing each other on various radio current affairs programmes. Now everyone is hoping that Leo and Pearse will feature on the undercard if Katie Taylor’s homecoming fight in Croke Park goes ahead later this year. Obviously, they will both be useless but the change of scenery from Leinster House should do them good.

And speaking of undercards, the show must go on. In the end it was Del Boy O’Brien versus Harry Potter Ó Broin, although there was absence of wide-boy swagger from Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien (despite outraged Opposition howls about him scoring cheap political points) while his Sinn Féin housing counterpart, bespectacled clever-boy Eoin Ó Broin, was wearing a distinctly grown-up tweed jacket.

They had a relatively civilised exchange about the Government’s forthcoming mica redress Bill with just a minor dig from the Minister about his Opposition shadow not responding to his requests to engage with him directly on the issue, despite publicly stating that he would. “And that is fine, that is your wont and that’s okay.” Ó Broin accused him of “petty point-scoring”.

Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats also accused him of going on the attack when he asked him if the Government would ban investment funds from bulk buying homes, including apartments. Darragh had treated him to a comprehensive rundown of all his great achievements on the housing front, complaining he didn’t get much support from the Social Democrats for his effort. And for the second time, he had to insist he was not trying to score points.

“There is no question we are not going to turn this around in a year or two years,” he trumpeted of his plan to solve the housing crisis.

Meanwhile, we had to wait for Aontú's Peadar Tóibín to get to what Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath described last year as “the last of the Fempi tail”, referring to the ending of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest introduced in the wake of the 2008 crash.

The Restoration Age has now arrived for the crème de la crème, who had to wait a couple of years for their remuneration to come back to pre-austerity levels while people on lower grades were dealt with first. It must be a sickener for the many public servants who saw their meagre salaries cut and are now trying to eke out their extra few bob from the reversal of Fempi to hear talk about restoring the pay of people who were trying to make ends meet on more than €150,000 a year to “pre-austerity” rates.

Peadar invoked the names of the handsomely salaried head of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, and Health Service Executive boss Paul Reid. He reckoned Reid would get a pay increase of “potentially €50,000, on top of €411,000″ as a result of these changes. “How is that fair when the health service is in the crisis it is in?”

From stagflation to fatcatflation.

“There’s never a problem with chasing inflation when it comes to them.”