Tuesday 20 March 2018

A Ring of Steel outside the Dáil, a Ringer of Confidence inside it

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Niall Collins, Justice spokesperson, ahead of the no confidence debate on Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Leinster House yesterday
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Niall Collins, Justice spokesperson, ahead of the no confidence debate on Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Leinster House yesterday
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

The very foundations of Leinster House trembled. Overhead, seagulls dropped their purloined burgers and ice-creams as they fell stunned from the sky.

Ringer was in full battle-cry. "YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU!" he bellowed across at Micheál Martin. "THE CHEEK OF YOU TO EVEN OPEN YOUR MOUTH! YOU WERE PART OF A GOVERNMENT, AND ALL YOU COULD EVER DO WITH EVERY SCANDAL THAT WAS THERE, YOU ASKED FOR ANOTHER REPORT," roared Michael Ring, as butterflies died in Argentina.

The Mayo TD might spar with his constituency colleague (deadly rival) Enda Kenny, but no Fianna Fáil jackanapes was going to slag off his boss. "The Taoiseach has been one of the best, most honourable and most decent Taoisigh to have sat in this House. There have been no scandals or whiff of scandal associated with him," he declared, with the volume turned all the way to eleven.

At least he woke everybody up from their stupor. God be with the days (ie the last administration) when no-confidence /confidence in the Taoiseach motions were impassioned ding-dongs with cliff-hanger votes. But - like every other piece of business in the 31st Dáil - the outcome is drearily predictable, thanks to the comfy coalition cushion of votes.

Unsurprisingly, the Government countered the flurry of opposition motions with a confidence motion of its own.

The opposition howled in protest. "It's absolutely contemptuous of the House," shouted Micheál Martin, but to no avail.

And so, on the first day back after a ridiculously long recess the Dáil was discussing - not the refugee crisis or the homelessness crisis - just how good/bad the Taoiseach is at his job. But the trouble is, the publication of the Fennelly report which sparked the no-confidence motions was released three weeks ago.

But the Dáil wasn't sitting way back then. Because they were all on holidays.

The only potential rock in the Coalition's smooth sailing through the debate was if the former Justice Minister decided to go off the reservation, break from the Fine Gael herd and gore his party leader. Alan Shatter is, after all, a mite unpredictable.

When the Taoiseach rose to speak on his own behalf, Alan was present, albeit sporting a thunderous expression. Enda stuck rigidly to the same line he hustled out nanoseconds after the report was published on September 1.

"I welcome the report's clear and unambiguous finding that the question of removing the former Commissioner from his position was never discussed or contemplated," he said.

"That's Comical Ali stuff," huffed Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins, but the Taoiseach was doggedly sticking to his mantra like a WAG to a footballer.

Enda also lavished praise on Maire Whelan, lauding her as "a diligent and exceptionally hard-working Attorney General". This earned him the full-hearted support of the Tánaiste who echoed the Enda Mantra.

"The report makes it clear that the ultimate decision to retire lay with the then Commissioner and that no directive was issued by the Taoiseach". In fact, Joan's tone was so soothing it was as if she had taken on the role of Opposition Horse Whisperer in an effort to calm their savage breasts.

But Micheál wouldn't be comforted. Every adjective was hurled at Enda.

The Report was "damning". It showed a "Taoiseach who panicked" and behaved in a "shifty" and "arrogant" manner.

The Government benches were unmoved. Deputies trickled out of the chamber. There was no air of tension.

One by one, ministers rose to circle the wagons around their leader. "You're talking through your hat," Simon Coveney informed Micheál.

"The finest example of brass-neckery," declared Brendan Howlin.

The Opposition did its best. But their heart (except for Micheál's) wasn't in it. Mary Lou McDonald reminded everyone of what was happening outside the circled wagons. "Today, at the top of the news, we were told that homelessness agencies have now declared the issue a humanitarian crisis".

The vote was a doddle in the end - 94 to 52.

Alan Shatter didn't have to vote as he was at home observing Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Outside Leinster House, huge steel barriers and massive Garda presence kept a few dozen protesters at bay. Where were the traditional hordes that roll out the unwelcome carpet for a returning government?

One (neutral) political observer concluded: "The people have made up their mind already about this government. They're waiting for the election"

Now that's when too much confidence could be a dangerous thing.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section