Thursday 19 October 2017

Comment: Leo and Mary Lou's dramatics played to a sparse audience - and that's worrying

Only an handful of TDs were present when the Taoiseach and Mary Lou McDonald exchanged words for a second time in a matter of days
Only an handful of TDs were present when the Taoiseach and Mary Lou McDonald exchanged words for a second time in a matter of days
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

This week's numerous heated exchanges between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Finn's Mary Lou McDonald have raised many an eyebrow - but it's not the deputies' tired dramatics that should be raising questions.

Their final exchange during which the pair sparred again during a question on Northern Ireland would have gone largely unnoticed save for the bizarre exchange during which the Fine Gael leader described the Dublin Central TD as "cranky today".

This witty back and forth may have been lost to just a few spectators because at that stage the chamber had, as is typical practice, emptied out ahead of the Taoiseach answering questions on issues of the day posed by the opposition.

The fact that there was just a handful of TDs sitting in their seats while the leader of the country was addressing the national parliament is embarrassing - for everyone.

While the spectacle was a bit of light entertainment, I'm sure those who were there felt short-changed about the fact they had turned up only to be treated to a tit-for-tat between Leo and Mary Lou.

Taoiseach's questions isn't known for attracting the masses and is generally only attended by party leaders and a few stragglers but why is that considered good enough?

Maybe those who were elsewhere will defend their absence by pointing out that little is achieved by turning up but if they are not there to hear the Taoiseach answering questions how can he be held to account?

Leaders of each party were in attendance to raise their carefully selected questions - but could barely hold their attention when it wasn't their turn to speak.

Even Mary Lou seemed bored by the proceedings, scrolling through her phone even as she argued with the Taoiseach.

It wasn't just the Taoiseach's representations that failed to draw a crowd, a late-night debate on new legislation needed to orchestrate the refunding of water charges (you know that little issue that drew thousands onto the street in protest, arguably caused the collapse of the Labour party and led to a pronounced u-turn on the part of the Government) was attended by just seven TDs.

The Dáil does work unsociable hours which is impractical, especially for parents, but that's not a secret that's unveiled on induction day.

All 158 TDs were well aware of what they were signing up for when they asked voters to trust them to be their voice in the national parliament.

It is hard to be a voice on the national stage when you are not there and even harder when your contributions are limited to a little bit of show-boating here and there for good measure and column inches.

It is safe to say none of our elected representatives covered themselves in glory yesterday and while Taoiseach's Questions may not be the most well-attended procedure on any day in the Dáil, the culture of 'I'm better off working elsewhere' needs to be examined.

If our law-makers are better served by working outside the Chamber more often than they attend it, then perhaps there rare wider issues that need to be addressed.

How many of those absent yesterday were working on national issues and how many were looking after local interests, tending to the proverbial parish pump?

The Dáil chamber is designed to be a place for debate and constructive discussions about the different approaches to running this country.

Using it as a stage for name-calling and grandstanding is getting a bit tiresome.

Online Editors

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