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Miriam Lord: All is sweetness in the Dáil as Paschal pours on the syrup

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform takes it handy while deputising for Taoiseach at Leaders’ Questions and blands Opposition TDs pleasantly to sleep

Midday struck and a large sinkhole opened beneath the unsuspecting few in the Dáil chamber.

It was lined with marshmallow and golden syrup.

The Opposition TDs plunged right down.

For it was a Paschal Donohole.


Which is like a Michael McGrabyss, only a little more sweet.

Unique features of the Irish political landscape, these two wily operators suck in potential opponents and bland them pleasantly to sleep.

Donohoe, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and McGrath, the Minister for Finance, have interlinked portfolios and both, thanks to some skilled soft-soaping from Paschal, are members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

The rest of the group must think Irish TDs are the nicest, quietest politicians in the world with Paschal and Michael buttering them up with both barrels.

So down they went into the Donohole and the feeling was cosy and restful and suddenly the Opposition didn’t feel like starting rows with the Government.

On Wednesday, Donohoe made a rare appearance at Leaders’ Questions, standing in for the Taoiseach, who was in Moldova at a meeting of the European Political Community.

Not everyone has heard of the EPC. It’s the new forum on the bloc.

Proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron, the EPC was established last year to strengthen political co-ordination among countries from the wider European front. Members include the 27 EU states, the Balkans and other neighbouring countries such as Ukraine, Switzerland, Iceland, Turkey and the UK.

So while Leo Varadkar was slumming it in the opulent surrounds of Mimi Castle in Bulboaca, Paschal was minding the shop for him back in Dublin.

He took it handy.

It was all very sedate and uneventful. No controversy or harsh words exchanged across the floor, just a series of non-threatening clucks from the Minister with lots of promises to “respond back” to the questioners on foot of all the fair and important points that they raised.

Mary Lou McDonald raised the newly-published report on familicide and domestic homicide, welcoming it as a “historic” and “groundbreaking” work. She urged the Government to act without delay in implementing its recommendations.

The Minister thanked her for bringing up “what is an exceptionally sensitive and important report into the most difficult of circumstances possible”.

He joined deputy McDonald in recognising the sensitivity of the subject matter and assured her that the Government would do all it could to prioritise and act on the report’s recommendations.

They both thanked each other for their respective contributions.

Eviction ban

Labour’s Ivana Bacik returned to the lifting of the eviction ban, which has led to many angry exchanges in the chamber and continues as a live and very contentious issue in the Dáil.

Even the Conservative Party across the pond is putting measures in place to restrict no-fault evictions. “If the Tories can take the risk, Minister, your Government should be similarly brave.”

Paschal “respectfully” disagreed and furnished figures explaining why.

“The decision to end the moratorium with regard to evictions was certainly one of the most difficult and complex decisions that I’ve ever been involved in as a member of Cabinet,” he sighed sadly.

The Independent Group’s Seán Canney was concerned about problems with the school transport system in Galway’s Abbeyknockmoy.

“It’s not a huge mystery,” said Seán. “It’s a question of using practical solutions to get people to the schools that they want to go to.”

Paschal concurred. His own Fine Gael colleague in Galway East, Ciaran Cannon, is also on the case and while he can’t give them an answer on one particular route, the Government “will do all we can to try to get the clarity that you’re looking for and the answers that, more importantly, families, pupils and schools need” in advance of the new school year.

“Yes, we need clarity as soon as possible” agreed Seán, adding that the Government’s review of the overall scheme needed to be finished soon so that changes could be made and children would not be left on the side of the road again.

“Fair point,” said Paschal.

Empty houses

Michael Healy-Rae was our last chance.

“I want to raise the whole issue of the void scheme” he began. Void? He would rather call it by what it actually is: the vacant local authority houses scheme.

There are 160 of them in Kerry but the county council can’t do them up because it only gets €11,000 per unit, no matter what condition the house is in. Why can’t the Government use some of the surplus billion euro it has for housing to sort out these void properties?

“Please give us the money and we’ll turn them around.”

As a landlord with a substantial portfolio, MHR knows what he is talking about. If a private owner needs to refurbish a place he will “tear at it in a systematic way” and send in tradespeople to sort everything.

But the local authorities can’t do this because their hands are tied financially.

Can Paschal not see the logic in his argument and release the funds?

After all “you were a very prudent minister of finance and I respect the work you are doing”.

The response was equally flattering.

“I am sure you wouldn’t be short of many great ideas regarding how to spend a billion euro in county Kerry and I am sure you’d be able to turn that money to very, very good effect,” smarmed Paschal. But he stressed that the “capital underspend” was due to the construction sector shutting down during the Covid pandemic and not because of Government inaction.

As for Michael’s distaste of the word “voids” when used to describe vacant properties, “I completely agree with you, actually ... It’s an empty home,” soothed Leo’s stand-in.

“Let’s call it an empty home programme.”

Deputy Healy-Rae was most gratified.

“I really appreciate you, Minister, talking sense and calling them empty homes and not voids. It’s so nice to hear a person telling the truth as it is,” he simpered at the dimpled one across the floor.

So maybe the Minister might release the resources needed by the excellent people in Kerry Council Council to help them get on with the fantastic job they are already doing? Because Michael cannot say one bad word against them.

But, of course. The Minister “fully appreciates the importance of “the empty house programme”.

Where there are further opportunities to turn vacant houses into homes he knows Darragh O’Brien will act upon it.

“And I hear what you say in relation to the excellent people in Kerry County Council and I am sure all your Government colleagues representing Kerry will join with you in recognising their great work.”

And that was the end of a lovely Leaders’ Questions when everyone fell woozily down the Paschal Donohole.

He said nothing of note.

After an equally soporific round of questions on promised legislation, the Ceann Comhairle woke everyone up and the House adjourned for lunch.