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Another day, another Sinn Feign tantrum in the Dail

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Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald

THE once-humdrum Thursday Leaders' Questions now make absorbing viewing, sparked by a succession of increasingly acrimonious pot-shots exchanged between Joan Burton and Mary Lou McDonald (inset).

Yesterday's bout of ri-ra kicked off when Mary Lou stood and asked Joan about a Garda internal review into allegations of sex abuse by the late Domhnall O Lubhlai, a prominent figure in the Irish language movement, and named one of his alleged victims.

The Tanaiste rose to reply. "On the case you've referred to, as you are aware I do not have access to the kind of detailed information that you have just brought to the floor of the House," she said.

Now, Joan is no slouch at the art of stonewalling, but this wasn't one of those occasions. She is not the Justice Minister, and she didn't have either access to the file or advance warning that this case was to be brought up by Sinn Fein in Leaders' Questions.

Opposition TDs who are seeking a substantive reply by the Taoiseach or Tanaiste in Leaders' Questions to a specific query, will routinely contact the relevant office in advance, so a brief can be prepared before the session. And as an experienced parliamentarian Mary Lou would know that. But Joan explained that the deputy had raised the matter "without any notification".

But the Tanaiste went further, adding, "People in Sinn Fein would be very well aware of the fact that Mr O Lubhlai was identified for a long period of time, very closely, as a very significant and important republican figure".

The Sinn Fein benches boiled in synchronised spontaneous outrage. Several deputies sprang to their feet and shouted for Joan to withdraw her comments. "Ridiculous. Disgraceful. Outrageous," they bellowed, claiming the Tanaiste had linked O Lubhlai to Sinn Fein.

Another day, another disruptive Sinn Fein stand-off.

Aengus O Snodaigh demanded a retraction. But Joan stuck to her guns, insisting that she hadn't mentioned his party.

An irate Ceann Comhairle tried to restore order, but to no avail. He suspended the House - the first of three such suspensions - and departed the chamber to arrange to view the official transcript of the exchange. He returned with the conclusion that Joan had made no such claim. Back in the chamber, after much perusal of the transcript, Sinn Fein dropped their demand for a retraction, with Aengus informing Sean Barrett that the party would instead refer the brouhaha to the equivalent of the Oireachtas Complaints Department, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP). However, the whole rather pointless fracas didn't knock the Sinn Fein deputies off their stride - shortly afterwards they fired off a press release trumpeting, "Tanaiste refuses to answer questions about state's handling of O Lubhlai abuse allegations". Due to the absence of a heads-up from Sinn Fein, the Tanaiste and Social Protection Minister didn't have the relevant information to hand in order to answer a detailed Justice-related question. But such a detail merely gets in the way of the drama.

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