Friday 21 October 2016

Colum Kenny : Pizza prank defies political reason

Published 16/12/2012 | 05:00

'I don't rat on people," says Deputy Tom Hayes of Fine Gael. He was refusing to identify the four people whom he says were with him when a bizarre practical joke was played on another TD on the eve of the latest austerity Budget.

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Late at night, a cross-party group phoned protesters who included independent deputy Mattie McGrath and offered them free pizza.

Michael McCarthy TD, who pretended to be an Italian, conned McGrath into responding.

Labour's McCarthy last week got a roasting on C103, his local radio station.

He told Patricia Messinger on C103's Cork Today programme: "We did what we did." But not everyone gets the joke.

Describing McGrath as "a very colourful character", McCarthy added that he was approached in the Dail by two colleagues who said, "Mattie is on a hunger strike. Will we give him a call and wind him up?"

McCarthy refuses to say anything else about the prank. And Fine Gael's Patrick O'Donovan is also unwilling to be interviewed to explain why he found it funny or appropriate. He issued a statement instead, saying: "I in no way intended causing any offence to Mattie McGrath or anyone else."

McGrath says that McCarthy has apologised to him orally, in passing.

McGrath believes that O'Donovan, a Limerick TD, leaked the story to the media.

With families struggling to make ends meet, sons and daughters emigrating and people facing repossession, it is hard for some citizens to understand how well-paid public representatives could find time for such nonsense.

"My constituency understands it," Hayes assured me last week. The Tipperary South deputy added: "This was a joke meant in good spirits. There was nothing sinister about it. It is just craic at 11 o'clock at night – after a 14- hour day."

Fianna Fail's Michael Moynihan TD is adamant that he "was at the other end of the bar" and did not even know that McGrath was being phoned. He and his party colleague Dara Calleary TD say that reports of their involvement are plain wrong.

McCarthy is as loyal as Hayes is to other members of the Leinster House club. Pressed by C103 to name names, he pleaded: "Just give me a fool's pardon on this one. I don't want to discharge responsibility on my part, nor do I want to implicate people."

For some employees, it would be a sackable offence to make such calls from their place of employment. Who was paying for the phone and for the call charges? Did the call bring an employer into disrepute? Fine Gael and Labour don't seem to think so. Does the Dail?

Hayes assured me: "People in work places have a joke on one another all the time." He also started to say: "If you cannot see the good side of that," but stopped short of finishing his sentence.

I probably need to lighten up. The lads in Leinster House, in their special workplace bar, are great gas. "Mattie has had a huge lot of publicity out of it," says his constituency colleague Hayes.

The protesters were objecting to the attempted repossession of a Wexford family's tractor. If deputies had a go at Mattie McGrath for jumping on a bandwagon (or a tractor), it might be fair game politically. But how could any public representative think that last week's stunt was funny, never mind professionally appropriate?

Also defying political logic is Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte TD. He seems peeved that the Supreme Court found that the Government had unfairly spent more than a million euro in public money on publishing biased information about the Children's Referendum. A million euro would pay for quite a few respite breaks for carers, but was spent instead on PR consultants and advertising for the Government.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court published its full judgement in the Children's Referendum case, weeks after its outline decision. The judges left ministers no wriggle room when it came to what was a clear breach of well-established principles in respect to spending public money on referendum campaigns.

Rabbitte complained last week: "It's an unusual situation that you elect a government and the Government seems to be impeded from advocating its convictions in a matter like a referendum."

Yes, Minister? Did the Government not actually say in court that its booklet and website did not "advocate its convictions" but were fair?

An Irish Times report of the case told us that "the State argued that none of the material being used by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs clearly disregarded the principles of the McKenna judgement" that require equal expenditure of public monies on contesting arguments in a referendum campaign.

The Irish Independent reported that "counsel for the State David Hardiman said that as part of its defence the State will assert the language used in the booklets and website is objective".

The Government won the vote despite losing the case and nearly screwing up its second referendum in a row.

What's more, the Supreme Court has done nothing at all to prevent government ministers from advocating a point of view like any other citizen, provided that ministers do not spend public money unfairly in the process.

Sunday Independent

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