Sunday 22 September 2019

A day of water, alcohol and vapours

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
John Downing

John Downing

Those two politically tricky liquids of Irish life - water and alcohol - were slated to be centre stage. But then the Taoiseach got an attack of the vapours, apparently scandalised by the language used by Micheál Martin. And Mr Martin's offending word or words? Well, it was "screw", and used in the unlikely setting of a row over hospice funding.

Mind you, Mr Varadkar actually refused to repeat the language used, which he insisted degraded the national parliament. It all happened after the Fianna Fáil leader rejected hospice funding explanations by the Taoiseach, and also challenged the sincerity of his praise for the hospice movement.

"There is no point coming in here saying you support the hospices when you screw them. That's what you have been doing for the last six months on this issue," the Fianna Fáil leader said.

"It's just utterly dishonest," he added, also accusing the Taoiseach of engaging in "verbiage and nonsense".

Mr Varadkar headed for the moral high ground, rejecting the allegations and objecting to the language.

"I reject the allegation and I reject the language you have just used in this House. I think that sort of language used in the parliament chamber is unbecoming of your office as leader of the Opposition," Mr Varadkar countered.

As the noise level went up, the Taoiseach was challenged to cite the offending word or words. But he hugged the high ground and argued it was now a matter for the Dáil chairman.

"The Ceann Comhairle may wish to examine whether or not that is one of the words prohibited," he said.

This was a reference to a long list of abusive terms, most of them strange and archaic, like 'cornerboy', which in theory at least are banned from Dáil debates.

Back with those original debate issues, the TDs were on the water while the senators were left with the "demon drink". To quicken up a bit here, after some ill-tempered exchanges the TDs voted in legislation which moved water charge rebates a bit closer.

There were allegations of playing to the gallery from the minister responsible, Eoghan Murphy. Outside in the real world it all means that those who paid the water charges can expect refunds, maybe before Christmas, or maybe after the festivities.

Some of that depends on the senators who spent the afternoon grappling with that other political liquid issue, the demon alcohol. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has the modest aim of trying to make us drink less.

That of itself might be a clue as to why the whole thing broke down in disarray a year ago. Now the apparently improved draft is back on the long trail through both houses of parliament.

Health Minister Simon Harris has been trying to reassure owners of smaller shops that the costs of separating alcohol from other items will not drive them out of business.

This one will take a while.

Irish Independent

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