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Roaring rural TDs came looking for Dáil insults and Simon Harris didn’t let them down

The Roaring Independents are the unwhipped cream of Irish politics, proudly refusing to take orders from anybody

The Taoiseach repeated what he heard people saying in Michael Collins’ very own constituency about the need for homes: 'I swear to God, I did.' Photograph: Oireachtas TV

The Dáil temperature cooled on Wednesday as TDs slowly recovered from their election exertions.

Low key and earnest exchanges between the Taoiseach and the main party leaders indicated they may have had enough excitement for one week, even if counts were still going strong in Ireland South and in Midlands Northwest.

But the Rural Independents did their best to up the tempo. To them, any Taoiseach rising to answer any of their questions is an insult waiting to happen. Simon Harris didn’t let them down.

Leaders’ Questions ended in a cacophony of indignant squawking with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle threatening to suspend the House.


The highlight of the squabble was when an outraged Michael Collins, one of the two Roaring Independents co-leading Independent Ireland, hissed at Harris: “Don’t bother coming down to west Cork!”

“I don’t need your permission,” retorted the Taoiseach.

Independent Ireland has had a good election, which might explain why the deputy for Cork South West was in such combative form. Then again, it doesn’t take much to set him off.

Members of the party he set up recently with fellow Roaring Independent, Richard O’Donoghue, are the unwhipped cream of Irish politics because they proudly refuse to take orders from anybody in the organisation.

Michael Collins: 'Airbnb hosts are not the solution to the housing problem.' Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

They were on tenterhooks all day because their man Ciaran Mullooly was still in with a very good shout in Midlands Northwest.

Deputy Collins asked the Taoiseach to adjust legislation aimed at regulating the short-term rental sector because it contains planning requirements which will harm the livelihoods of thousands of Airbnb hosts.

He said the Government failed to consult these accommodation providers and its decision to “railroad ahead with these proposals will have devastating consequences” for Irish tourism, local businesses and jobs.

“Airbnb hosts are not the solution to the housing problem,” he argued.

The Taoiseach agreed “absolutely” on the need for rental options for people on holiday and on an accompanying need to support the B&B sector. But concerns about rural tourism must be balanced against local housing priorities.

He asked Skibbereen-based Collins to look at the detail of the legislation before pronouncing on it. It’ll be out very shortly so he won’t have long to wait.

The Bill provides for a register of short-term lets in Ireland, taking recently enacted EU law into account.

Simon Harris took a leaf out of the Enda Kenny playbook of fascinating on-street encounters to explain why these new measures are required. “When I was in your constituency during the local and European elections I met people in Kinsale, on the main street, who came up to me and said: ‘Simon, there’s a lot of places here that are vacant – Airbnb and the likes – and my young person can’t get anywhere to rent or live.’”

Only a wet week in the job and he’s already approaching peak Enda.

Michael wasn’t looking to have the legislation thrown out. “The Airbnb sector are not afraid of regulation,” he said. The big concern is about planning requirements and associated compliance costs which could put them out of business.

Simon wasn’t about to assuage those concerns.

“We have to be honest in this House about Airbnb and how much people can make on that over a couple of days versus renting out the place for a month... There is either a housing emergency in Ireland or there is not. And let me be clear – there is.”

While tourism is an important part of our economy and must be nurtured, what about all the young people who can’t find a house? The west Cork TD must have met some of them while out on the campaign trail, just like he did.

“I’m sure you would have looked them in the eye, Deputy Collins, and I’m sure you will have told them you are going to do everything in the Dáil, and your councillors and your MEP and whatever else are going to do everything to help them get a home. Well, so am I.”

But to make this happen, actual decisions have to be taken instead of just jumping on that day’s chosen bandwagon.

Michael Collins was astounded.

“Shocking,” he shivered.

The Taoiseach repeated what he heard people saying in Deputy Collins’ very own constituency about the need for homes.

“I swear to God, I did,” he said, raising one hand in the air and slapping the other over his heart like he was about to give evidence in a Manhattan courthouse.

As he sadly swore about “the mother who spoke to me on that street”, he wasn’t holding a bible in one hand but a large lump of cheese.

“And this Government is not going to let her and her kids down,” he whispered, poignantly.

And a big slice of ham.

So what about answering the question? asked Michael.

What about waiting to read the legislation and tabling amendments and having a debate in the Dáil? countered Simon.

“Don’t do this usual thing of...” he began, suddenly putting on this funny quivery voice and flapping his hands. “...Oooh, the Government doesn’t understand rural Ireland, Oooh, the Government...”

I swear to God. Fuses began blowing across the floor.

“Nonsense,” snapped the Taoiseach in his normal voice and he sat down.

Michael Collins was so stunned he couldn’t stand at first, protesting from his chair.

“That is a scandalous answer to the people providing Airbnb in west Cork,” he cried, before jumping up to join Michael Healy-Rae who was already on his feet and roaring.

“You visited Kerry recently and you should know better than to come up here and say something like that,” shouted MHR. “Because that’s an insult!”

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” foamed Collins.

Catherine Connolly, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, battled to maintain order as rapid reinforcement arrived in the puffing form of Danny Healy-Rae, quickly squeezing in past his livid younger brother, and Mattie McGrath.

Collins was still going. “Clueless... You don’t have a clue.”

“We expected better from you than that now, Taoiseach,” trembled MHR while DHR howled in support.

“Don’t bother coming down to west Cork!” growled Michael C.

“I don’t need your permission,” smiled Simon.

Catherine Connolly belted the bell but they bellowed on.

MHR accused sweetly smiling Simon of coming “up here” (presumably after that visit to Kerry’s tourist hotspots) and mocking people. “That’s mocking, and you’re wrong, Taoiseach. You’re 62 days in the job and you should know a lot more than that now.”

“Why are ye upset, lads?” he murmured, needling away.

“Deputies, I’m four years in the job and never once have I been ignored in this manner,” chided Catherine.

Riled-up Michael from Kerry told the Taoiseach he was out of order.

“How am I out of order?”

The Leas-Cheann had enough, threatening to “abandon the Dáil” if the Roaring Independents didn’t behave. They eventually subsided and she moved on to the next item.

Job done, they bustled from the chamber, riled-up Michael from Skibbereen pausing politely to apologise to the Chair on his way out.

The temperature returned to normal.