Nicola Anderson: 'Fat lady' comment was ignorant and misogynistic, but Mattie just can't stop digging

Mattie McGrath Photo: Tom Burke

Nicola Anderson

What with the combination of animation, pitch and a sprinkling of deepest Tipp, it's fair to say it can be a little tricky to understand deputy Mattie McGrath when he's in full flow in the Dáil chamber.

On a good day, about 70pc of what he says is immediately understood, some is slowly parsed and the rest remains a mystery.

All a clever ploy to buy him time to respond, a seasoned Leinster House observer once quipped.

How unfortunate that on the one occasion when he chose to have crystal clear diction, it landed him into the worst of trouble.

Out on the plinth in Leinster House to discuss the serious issue of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment in the earlier part of the day, he was talking about the people having the final say.

"The fat lady hasn't sung here yet and I'm not talking about the chairperson of the committee or anybody like that," he far too fluently chattered, all in the one breath.

This appalling clanger dripping with misogyny was an apparent reference to the svelte Senator Catherine Noone. It was ugly, it was ignorant and it was certainly not the language anyone might expect of one public representative speaking of another.

Childish sniggers instantly erupted all around Mattie from those who should have known better, namely deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Collins.

"Best not to say it like that," Mattie quickly added, by now up to his waist in the heavy clay of Kildare Street, brandishing long-lost Viking artefacts he had encountered on his way down.

"I'm just saying that as an old saying. It's up to the electorate.

"And I look forward with all my colleagues here, I'm sure, [to the vote] taking place throughout the country," he said.

"And if there's is a referendum the people will have the final say, thankfully to repeal the Eighth or otherwise."

Senator Noone said she would not dignify the comment with a response.

Deputy McGrath later said he had phoned her to explain himself, asking to meet her but, understandably enough, she told him she was "far too busy" with the forthcoming vote. "But she understood," claimed Mattie, standing by his original explanation that he had not meant anything by it and he had been just using "an old saying they often say in the country".

"The only reason I referenced her at all was because I had just talked about her beforehand," he said.

But he gloomily conceded he had made the situation worse, lamenting: "I kept digging."

It was a pity this incident stole the show on what was a historic day, when politicians officially made progress in tackling the thorny issue of abortion.

A large crowd piled into the committee room to witness the event.

By the way the voting went, it was clear this had been an exercise in soul-searching, each word carefully weighed.

They voted first to repeal the Eighth Amendment, 14 votes to six. Steadily, they went through each issue, Senator Noone carefully maintaining a dignified atmosphere throughout.

Bitterness only spilled over as Senator Ronan Mullen leaned back in his seat and suggested that he understood there was "something more important than rushing this through".

"We agreed last week no speeches," warned Clare Daly.

"I'm making a ruling here," began Senator Noone.

"That's an outrageous ruling," Senator Mullen immediately replied.

The hubbub continued, adding to the tension.

"Let him make his few points," said Sinn Féin's Jonathan O'Brien wearily, sparking a cackle from the public gallery.

Senator Mullen looked visibly stung - and admitted afterwards he had been.

The brouhaha continued, as he accused the committee of using the amendments to cloak "its very damaging recommendations".

They adjourned, while some in the gallery whispered on the way out: "Will we go off canvassing?"