How the absence of a government means we miss out on the best Dáil put-downs
Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30
Now don't freak when I tell you this, but I miss the Dáil. Not, you understand, because of its ability to solve complex social problems or create housing for the thousands of homeless - we're all well aware those kind of fantasy aspirations are far beyond the capabilities of our elected officials.
No, what I really miss, after nearly 60 days of deadlock, is the cajoling, chicanery and codology we get in daily doses from Leinster House. It's our very own emerald reality soap - complete with 158 play actors, each on a yearly mimimum of almost €90,000. Only last week, one of the great Gielguds of the chamber emerged briefly from retirement to remind us of the acute verbal dexterity we no longer enjoy.
Bertie-isms such as "We're not going to hang anyone on the guillotine" have long since passed into legend. And his observation that "At present, I have my hand in a whole lot of dykes, trying to keep them in and keep people together" will surely be used as a referendum slogan somewhere in the world some day. But for sagacity and judiciousness, could anything beat this multiple negative in response to a question during the Mahon Tribunal: "It is not correct, if I said so I wasn't correct, so I can't recall if I did say, but I did not say it, and if I did say it I didn't mean to say it."
Regardless of where you stand on his legacy, there's no escaping the long shadow cast by one CJ Haughey when it comes to the more arresting moments of modern Irish political life. Famous for the Charvet shirts and "living beyond our means" gaffes of the 1980s, Charlie had a tongue on him that would make a viper recoil.
His description of Conor Cruise O'Brien as a minister being "like a lighthouse in a bog, brilliant but useless" was a classic. But not to be outdone, The Cruiser fired back: "I regret that I called Deputy Haughey a gentleman and can give him my assurance that it will never happen again." CJ once berated a Senator so badly the poor man forgot where the exit door was. "Try the f--ing window," his master barked helpfully. Newsman Leo Enright fairly summed up the Haughey mystique when he said, "I have a theory about Charlie. If you give him enough rope, he'll hang you."
Whatever about the world of UFC, an ability to roll with the punches is key to survival in the octagon of Dáil Éireann. Hit the canvass at your peril. Here's what I mean: "The prospect of Fianna Fáil examining the impact of the Maastricht Protocol on the Irish Constitution is like a chimpanzee with a screwdriver at the back of a television set," was a straight left delivered by Michael McDowell. The late Jim Kemmy floored many, especially when taking on fellow Treaty City inhabitant Willie O'Dea: "Mighty Mouse in Limerick and church mouse in the Dáil." No slouch himself at slinging a decent zinger, his observation on Enda is classic O'Dea: "It's very hard to take criticism from somebody who, in so far as I can make out, never had an original thought in his head, never came up with an original idea, and if he does come up with one in the future, it will be beginner's luck." And, proving the sons of the Kingdom have a way with words, Jackie Healy-Rae gave his opinion on coalescing with the Progressive Democrats with this: "I wouldn't share power with them on a sheep dip committee."
In the end, when it comes to old-style put-downs, Michael Noonan has long proven himself the Obi-Wan of Dáil Éireann: "You're like the auld fella walking up and down the boundaries of the ballroom of romance saying he'll dance with nobody across the floor," he jibed at Sinn Féin's reticence to form a government. "But sure the truth of the matter is that nobody wants to dance with him either."
It's impossible to pick the top put-down of all time, but James Dillon's retort to De Valera's impugning of his family's patriotism is a true classic: "I'll have you know, sir, that my father, John Dillon, and my grandfather, John Blake Dillon, gave of their gallant best for this country while your ancestors, sir, were bartering budgerigars in the back alleys of Barcelona."
So kiss, make up and form a government, people - we sorely need the laughs.