Twenty-three years since Labour last tabled a motion of no confidence in a government.
Based on Wednesday’s performance, it’s just as well.
“So Ivana says she’s going to build a millun houses. I wouldn’t trusht Labour to build a hen house,” spluttered Danny Healy-Rae. “And if they did cobble something together the fox would clean it in one night.”
Meanwhile, the Government monstered its erstwhile Labour bedfellows with the sort of blistering onslaught it reserves for Sinn Féin.
Then Ivana Bacik’s troops were savaged by Danny’s Rural Independents even though they supported the motion, while two additional Independents also expressed no confidence in the party before rowing in behind its motion against the Government.
Speakers from Sinn Féin, the Soc Dems and People Before Profit stuck to attacking the Government, pointedly ignoring the party behind the motion.
Some Labour TDs seemed taken aback by the level of opprobrium. A pained Aodhán Ó Ríordáin grew more affronted by the minute, heckling and interrupting with increasing frequency. Coalition speakers noticed this and gleefully tormented him with taunts about his record of objecting to private housing developments.
Look on the bright side, Aodhán. At least people were talking about you.
The early sitting brought out the best of bad spirits among the warring parties. The Government trumped Labours’s gambit by tabling a motion of confidence in itself, assembling a noisy cast of ministerial luminaries to loudly blow their own trumpets.
Even though the final result was never in doubt, the debate was fraught and shouty with both sides (plus Bacik’s indignant crew in the middle) slugging it out over 2½ rancorous hours.
The Taoiseach opened the debate. Like the rest of his Government colleagues, many of whom soldiered with Labour in the 2011 government, he oscillated between withering contempt for the party and rueful disappointment over its departure from decent Labour values.
“The Labour Party will not be patronised by Fine Gael,” harrumphed Ged Nash.
In contrast to the rest of the chamber, the Sinn Féin benches were packed for Mary Lou McDonald’s anticipated scorn-fest. She did not disappoint.
“The delusion of this Government is on full and glorious display again here today,” she boomed, excoriating the decision to lift the eviction ban and introducing her party’s chosen phrase of the controversy for the first of many times.
“Where are people to go?”
This plea was taken up with gusto by Sinn Féin’s TD for Dublin Fingal, Louise O’Reilly, who told of a widowed mother of four from Skerries facing eviction.
“I don’t know if anyone on the Government benches has ever been evicted?”
A voice piped up from across the floor.
It was James Lawless, Chair of the Oireachtas Justice committee and barrister-at-law.
Louise moved swiftly on, directly addressing her constituency colleague Joe O’Brien of the Greens, who is a junior Minister and has worked with homeless services.
“You know how bad it is. Where’s she goin’, Joe? Where’s she goin’? She’s your neighbour.”
Joe silently returned her gaze.
There were two outbreaks of finger-wagging.
Ó Ríordáin kept asking Minister for Higher Education and acting Minister for Justice Simon Harris to talk about homelessness and the Government’s track record.
“You have probably objected to more homes than any other member of Dáil Éireann,” needled Simon.
“No, I haven’t, actually,” bridled Aodhan.
“You probably have ...”
“No, I haven’t ...”
The Labour TD for Dublin Bay North huffed that Fine Gael objected to social housing units in his constituency.
“You’re not a múinteoir any more, you don’t need to wag your finger at me,” snapped Simon.
“You should talk about homelessness, then.”
“Don’t wag your finger at me and stop objecting to homes in your constituency.”
It was like being stuck in the middle of a particularly bad panto.
A short time later and the Minister for Housing was winding up Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin – or, as he called him, “the serial objector and interrupter Eoin Ó Broin”.
Followed by a gratuitous swipe at his Sinn Féin colleague in Fingal, Louise O’Reilly, over party reps objecting to housing.
Louise nearly burst him. “Don’t wag your finger at me!”
Among the heavyweights drafted in to big up the Coalition’s achievements, the Minister for Finance pointed out that “Ireland is a very successful country” despite what the Opposition might say.
“It’s not the basket case that Deputy Ó Broin portrays it to be,” soothed Michael McGrath.
“You’re the basket case,” retorted Ó Broin.
Socialist Mick Barry went all the way to Los Angeles for material and returned with the most bizarre opener of the day: “There are some things in life you don’t really recover from. Will Smith was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and went on to star in some decent movies, but he is probably not going to be remembered for any of that.”
He will be remembered for slapping Chris Rock on the face at the Oscars. Governments are similarly remembered for the big dramatic moments too, and for the Coalition it’s the housing crisis.
“Now is its Will Smith moment, the sheer unadulterated fecking madness of ending this eviction ban.”
Hildegarde Naughton, on the subject of Opposition TDs objecting to developments, quoted Voltaire. In French.
“How many houses did he build?” deadpanned O’Reilly.
Then the Government chief whip moved on to former Labour leaders James Connolly, Brendan Corish and Michael O’Leary, who understood the importance of building homes for workers and families.
Whereupon Heather Humphreys invoked the ghost of Connolly, bemoaning the state of his party today and urging members not to go down the populism route.
“Labour is the oldest party in this country and, believe it or not, James Connolly’s parents actually came from beside Newbliss in Co Monaghan, my own local village.”
Mattie McGrath of the Rural Independents took a dim view of the noisy back-and-forth between the parties.
“The men of 1916 must be turning in their graves with what’s going on here.”
Michael Fitzmaurice, the Galway East Independent and self-proclaimed champion of rural people, said he would be voting against the Government because it is being led by the nose by the Greens.
“No offence to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, but when the pup is pulling the dog around the field, something has to be done.”
A quivering Danny Healy-Rae roared across the floor at the Taoiseach and Tánaiste: “Schtand up for the people that elected ye and give up the blackguarding!”
The Labour heckling continued as the debate drew to a close. Danny exploded, complaining loudly about their behaviour.
“Ye have no manners!” he bellowed.
The Chair pleaded for some decorum. People at home were watching.
Schoolchildren in the public gallery were transfixed.
Minister of State Mary Butler was disgusted.
“This morning I had to cancel my visit to St Loman’s psychiatric Hospital in Mullingar to be present here today.”
The Ceann Comhairle had the last word.
“This debate has been a disgrace.”