Miriam Lord: Martin plays innocent as end-of-term homework piles up on President’s desk

Taoiseach blames long-winded TDs for repeat of last-minute legislative dump, criticised by Higgins last year

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold in Áras an Uachtaráin when the summer holidays are about to begin and Michael D is in front of a mirror admiring his profile in a Panama hat before heading off somewhere nice.

But fan nóiméad, a hUachtaráin.

Thump! What’s that noise?

That is the heavy plop of the Government’s end-of-term legislative drop.

“Shower of incompetent lúdramán,” hisses President Higgins, flinging his new hat at the dogs as he storms back into his office. “Sabina, kindly send our driver away. We won’t be needing him today.”

Or tomorrow. Or the next day.

This very same thing happened last year when the Government did its usual last-minute trick of sending out buckets of Bills for his consideration in the dying days before recess, thus clearing their legislative desks with the minimum of scrutiny while leaving the President with the headache of having to check them out within seven days before signing them into law.

Michael D’s resultant vexation (he penned a stinker of a letter to the Ceann Comhairle) made headlines after he complained about the Dáil’s “unseemly end-of-term haste to have Bills concluded” in a process that was “less than ideal and unnecessary”.

Many of the Bills, he wrote, were very complex “and require me to undertake a detailed analysis of their constitutional implications”.

The Opposition was incensed on their President’s behalf. It was disrespectful and “absolutely appalling”, said then Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, to see the Government pushing through legislation without scrutiny. “We said we would sit as long as the Government wanted, five days a week, all night if needed, but we cannot be rushing legislation,” he said in an impassioned declaration believed by nobody because they would die with the shock if asked to do such a thing.

However, a missive from the Phoenix Park is not to be treated lightly. The Oireachtas business committee convened a meeting the very next day to determine how business might be ordered in a better way in the future, while the Taoiseach explained that Covid-19 and the need for emergency legislation “exacerbated” the problem.

What’s this year’s excuse?

Labour’s Ivana Bacik indicated to the House on Tuesday that the presidential Panama would in the back of the press for some time yet because the Bills are building up again. A year after Higgins wrote to express his concerns, legislation is flying into the Áras once again as the summer recess approaches.

“We need to see an end to this practice of last-minute legislation. We need to take account of the President’s concerns about rushed legislation,” she told the Taoiseach.

Micheál Martin wasn’t inclined to take the blame. He believes the source of Michael D’s woes can be traced back to grandstanding TDs who want to use Dáil time talking in circles instead of pushing on with legislating.

And anyway, along with the rest of Cabinet, he doesn’t pay a blind bit of attention to the President. He didn’t say that to the Labour leader, but when Micheal D made his recent speech lambasting the Government’s housing policy, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the rest of Merrion Street’s finest fell over themselves insisting he was above mere politics and must be left to his own devices.

That is not to say they weren’t raging about his comments. So the Cabinet is probably planning to send a van-load of Bills to the Phoenix Park in the final week, just to annoy him.

To this end the Dáil is sitting all day on Friday in an effort to get the legislative logjam moving before the July 14th break-up.

We don’t deserve them.

“Three weeks to make the Government see sense,” cried Mary Lou McDonald. She wasn’t asking for special consideration for Michael D but for an emergency budget to ease some of the pain of the cost-of-living crisis before the holidays kick in.

The Sinn Féin leader had a group of VIPs in the chamber for Leaders’ Questions and introduced them before the resumption of weekly hostilities. “We have three boxing champions in the public gallery that I want to welcome and acknowledge,” she announced, looking up at Amy Broadhurst, the IBA world champion at light welterweight; Dearbhla Tinnelly, who is European light heavyweight youth champion; and Evelyn Igharo, the reigning Irish elite champion at 70kg.

They are members of Clann Naofa boxing club in Dundalk and were in Leinster House with their coach, Jim O’Neill, as guests of Louth TD Ruairí Ó Murchú.

“These women are trailblazers. They were around the House — members met them and, I have to say, we were all a bit star-struck,” said Mary Lou as the chamber applauded.

The Ceann Comhairle really missed a trick when Mary Lou finally embarked on her weekly quest to give the Taoiseach a bloody nose. Seán Ó Fearghaíl has a large bell at his disposal but, sadly, he overlooked a golden chance to get business under way with a noisy “Ding! Ding! Seconds out!”

The cost-of-living crisis dominated for the most part with multiple calls from across the floor for an interim package of support measures before the October budget. “We’re prepared to sit during the summer, if needs be,” said Bacik, having a Pádraig MacLochlainn moment.

Speak for yourself, Ivana.

When the time came to agree on the week’s Order of Business, deputies began their usual chorus of calls for urgent debates and statements on matters of public interest. Michael Collins of the Rural Independent Group called for a debate on admissions to special-needs schools.

“We need to have a proper debate for the week, not just have it crammed into a Friday evening Dáil debate.”

The Taoiseach was exasperated by the requests. “My view is that members of this House want this to be a debating chamber, not a legislative chamber.

All he ever hears are “calls for statements, statements, debates, debates, debates” and there isn’t enough time left to make laws. TDs, he said, need to make up their minds: is the Dáil a legislative assembly (as he sees it) or a place to have “endless debates”?

“Request after request. Statements on this, statements on that; debate on this, debate on that, but to hell with the legislation,” he said as deputies bristled with indignation and asserted their right to talk until the cows come home.

“Outrageous!” spluttered Collins.

“Deputy Collins doesn’t want to be crammed in on a Friday,” dripped Micheál, to general ructions.

“If you don’t behave yourselves we are going to suspend the House,” quivered the Ceann Comhairle.

Legislation gets things done “as opposed to just playing to the gallery all the time”, Micheál added, before pausing to check the mote in his own eye. He looked across at the fulminating Rural Independent. “And Deputy Collins, you win first prize in that regard.”

Clear the decks, Michael D, and lock away the bucket and spade. A damburst of Bills is coming your way.