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Miriam Lord: No hurling from the ditch as Tánaiste gets stuck into Collins reports

Before telling the Dáil nothing new, Niall Collins took words right out of Micheál Martin’s mouth

The statement was a seven-minute sideshow.

“Thank you for the opportunity,” said Niall Collins, before reading nothing we didn’t know already into the Dáil record.

Obviously, that was a lie.

Who in their right mind would be grateful for the opportunity to do something they really didn’t want to do?


Furthermore, Niall Collins stole those words from the Tánaiste.

Not two hours earlier, Micheál Martin was enormously grateful when Holly Cairns gave him the chance to call out an “investigative website” called The Ditch. Except he never said “thank you for the opportunity” (even though he was clearly delighted to get it) because the words were gone.

We now know why.

Niall Collins robbed them.

It’s an another open-and-shut case. Another example of the type of “criminality and corruption of politicians in Ireland” which Paddy Cosgrave, Chay Bowes and their gumshoes at The Ditch have helped to expose.

One notable scalp is the TD who didn’t declare his rental properties on the register of interests. And another is the county councillor, now a TD, who made an error about his address when filling in a planning application for a bungalow 15 years ago.

Robert Troy and Damien English were both very wrong to do what they did. The Ditch exposed them and they lost their positions as junior ministers.

It’s a very dangerous job they do, cleaning up Dodge – or the Dáil, as it is also known.

Paddy Cosgrave moved to respond on Twitter on Thursday after the Tánaiste mounted a full-scale attack on him and his website during Leaders’ Questions.

Micheál was clearly up for the fight as he tore into the tech entrepreneur along with his sidekick with the sideline on Russia Today and the controversial “news platform” that they have nurtured.

Niall Collins, on the other hand, sounded slightly nervous when he was explaining the circumstances surrounding his wife’s purchase of a plot of land from Limerick County Council. This might be because he was worried some people might think it odd that a council subcommittee, of which he was a member, agreed to place that land for sale on the open market just a few weeks after various parties, including his wife, expressed an interest in buying it.

But that subcommittee had no say in who bought it. The full council made that decision and Collins was a TD by then.

Or he might have been nervous about being exposed by The Ditch for lying about being grateful for the opportunity to address the Dáil and for robbing the Tánaiste’s opening line.

Or, given that has been “exposed”, he might have been nervous just thinking about the three former military personnel who now travel everywhere with the Web Summit supremo.

But back to the Tánaiste and his unusually animated response to a couple of legitimate and politely-put inquiries from Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns on why the Opposition was not allowed to put questions to Collins after his personal statement, as has previously been the case with Government politicians monstered by The Ditch.

Why one rule for Niall and another for the rest? And did he agree with the Taoiseach’s declaration on Wednesday that “question-and-answer sessions turn the Dáil into a kangaroo court?”

She was asking in the interest of transparency and accountability and wasn’t trying to pre-empt what the Minister of State might say.

Noting that he had the full support of the Coalition leaders, who all agree no laws were broken, why the refusal to allow the Opposition to question him “if the matter is so straightforward”?

The Tánaiste calmly outlined the detail which would be repeated by his deputy for Limerick County later in the day before getting to what he really wanted to say.

“The full story has not been told,” he said.

But, by God, he was the man who was going to tell it. And tell it, he did.

First, he pointed out that inaccuracies in the website’s initial report a few months ago about Niall Collins created false impressions “but very strong innuendo was left out there”.

This, he charged, was done deliberately by The Ditch in an effort to “undermine character and reputation, more than anything else”.

The “campaigns” orchestrated by this company deserve closer scrutiny and elected politicians in Leinster House should not facilitate its political agenda.

As the Tánaiste leathered into The Ditch, he dismissed its claims to be an independent media platform, accusing one of its founders of having close links to Russia.

He was passionate, engaged and more animated than he has been in the chamber for a long, long time. As if he was finally able to release the pent-up anger – shared by his Government colleagues – about the methods and motives of this “investigative” online operation.

So he let fly.

Yes, he knows the world of politics has changed. And he knows what is happening internationally.

“We should not be slaves to it ... If you look at that whole campaign and how it was organised over the past week, it deserves analysis: the trending, the build-up, the hashtags, the algorithms, the paid ads.

The berating of media for daring not to discuss it or cover it. Extraordinary full-frontal attacks on the national broadcaster and other TVs and other media for not following the trending operation.”

So yes, he knows the way politics is going and what is happening.

“I have issues with that,” he said. “This is a political campaign.”

It was some reply – angry, intense and heartfelt.

Holly Cairns delivered the perfect response.

In calm, level tones she said: “I’m not asking you about The Ditch.” Nor was she asking for his opinion on it or, for that matter, his opinion on whether Niall Collins broke the law. She was looking for scalps, she was asking about and looking for political accountability.

But the Tánaiste had the bit between his teeth and wasn’t letting up. The Ditch – and the people behind it, Paddy Cosgrave and Chay Bowes, who has Russian links – want to undermine the Government.

He became even more exercised by Paul Murphy of People Before Profit, who thundered that his response to the website exposing “an arguably criminal offence” was to “cover it up”.

But Micheál was having none of it. He is “clear” on what is happening. The Ditch has carried out many “attempted character assassinations” of politicians.

“This is a political organisation ... The whole agenda is create the campaign, get it trending, get the paid ads, attack the media if they don’t cover it and then we’ll get into the Dáil for questions and answers.”

Among other things, he cited tweets sent by Paddy Cosgrave to support his case.

“I’m not going to facilitate it, every week, in and out of here in Dáil Éireann.”

It was a powerful performance.

From the Tánaiste and former taoiseach, with the clear backing of the current Taoiseach, it was almost tantamount to a declaration of war.

The next few months should be very interesting.