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Sunday 18 February 2018

Perfect political put-downs

Edel Coffey

This week's exchanges in the Dail are unlikely to find a place among the all time greatest parliamentary smack-downs. They certainly have a long way to go before they catch up with the likes of these historic phrases:

Winston Churchill probably wins the award for conjuring some of the wittiest political insults. One of his best was surely when an assistant knocked on his toilet door to say the Lord Privy Seal wanted to see him. Churchill replied, "Tell the Lord Privy Seal I am sealed in my privy and can only deal with one shit at a time."

Another famous insult was directed at Lady Astor, who said to Churchill, "Sir, if you were my husband, I would poison your drink." Churchill replied, "Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it."

Benjamin Disraeli and his rival William Gladstone came up with some stinging one-liners. When asked to distinguish between the meaning of a misfortune and a calamity, Disraeli said. "If Gladstone fell into the Thames that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen can also come up with a witty put-down or two, having once described Fine Gael and Labour meeting in Mullingar to commemorate the Mullingar accord as having "a cup of coffee to celebrate the anniversary of having a cup of coffee". John Bruton too was able to dish it out. In 1994 he said, "If the Air Corps had a frequent flyer programme, government ministers could probably get to the moon and back on their accumulated points."

Last year, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez described George Bush as "more dangerous than a monkey with a razor blade" and also asked, "Who would be the greater fascist: Hitler or Bush? They might end up in a draw."

Bertie Ahern always just about managed to stop short of using really bad language, which tended to give his insults a watered-down ineffectualness. When he lost his temper in June 2006 with Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, the most offensive slur he came up with was the term 'nitwit'. Addressing Mr Higgins, he said, "You have a failed ideology, you have the most hopeless policy that I ever heard pursued by any nitwit. You are a failed person, you were rejected and your political philosophy has been rejected and you're not going to pull people back into the failed old policies that you dreamt up in south Kerry when you were a young fella. Now go away."

Put next to the scathing wit of Churchill and Disraeli, Bertie's comment is about as inoffensive (and effective) as a playground taunt. -- EDEL COFFEY

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