Wednesday 12 December 2018

'Dáil bingo': A trial numbered card system led to chaos in the chamber but how is it supposed to work?

On Wednesday the Dáil descended in to chaos but why is a numbered card system causing difficulty?

Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Dáil chamber descended into chaos as a row erupted over speaking time and over who would get to ask Taoiseach Leo Varadkar questions.

Fianna Fáil’s Marc McSharry complained that the Healy Rae brothers (Danny and Michael), along with fellow Independent Mattie McGrath are constantly jumping to the top of the queue.

What followed was an exchange that involved Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-moon, Strictly Come Dancing, a trip to Kilgarvan and Christ himself.

The shouting match has even been picked up by Sky News under the headline: 'If you thought the Commons was bad...'

Across the chamber Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must have been wondering what was so important that the Opposition TDs were taking scalps off each other in order to question him.

But what is the system being used to determine speaking time?

The hottest game to keep TDs entertained in Leinster House right now is ‘Dáil bingo’, which sees speaking time allocated based on a number printed on a laminated A4 sheet of paper.  

The wily Healy-Raes and Mattie McGrath were quick to cotton on to the ‘first come, first served’ policy and regularly show up early to ensure they are near the top of the queue.

Mr MacSharry thought he did well to secure ‘legs eleven’ for yesterday’s sitting – but the Kerrymen have another trick.

If you want to speak on the same topic as somebody with a number ahead of you then you can skip the line.

Keeping up? In simple terms, imagine Christmas Day when the board games come out and one smart sibling has actually read the rulebook. 

When proceedings resumed Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, said the card system being used is a “pilot scheme until Easter”.

Mr MacSharry intervened on Wednesday when Michael Healy-Rae proposed to speak on the same issue as his brother, with Mr MacSharry complaining that the deputies were "making a joke out of it altogether.  It is every ten minutes".

Danny Healy-Rae shot to feet: “Do not call us names. We were elected here in our own names and we will take no rubbish from MacSharry.”

Michael blasted next: “When MacSharry was looking for Seanad votes, he was damn glad to come to Kilgarvan.”

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher tried to intervene but it was too late.

Mr MacSharry: “This is a joke. It is ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and they are the half-time performers.”

Mr Gallagher: “I am going to move on. MacSharry, control yourself.”

Mr MacSharry: “For Christ’s sake, control them.”

Tensions flared as Mr MacSharry suggested he might form a cross-party Sligo-Leitrim technical group in a bid to get more speaking time.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle waved his hands, pleaded for calm and threatened to suspend the House.

“This is a disgrace. Suspend it if you like. It may as well be suspended. The same people have the floor all the time,” Mr MacSharry roared.

And with that the chairman threw his pen down, whacked the bell and called a break.

When things got back to normal, Mr MacSharry’s number eventually came up. What was so urgent for the Sligo-Leitrim deputy to bring to the Taoiseach’s attention?

Well, he wanted a timeline for the McKinsey report being undertaken by An Post and what impact it would have on rural post offices.

“I want to know what is going to happen. In my constituency, we have Ballygawley and, most recently, Easkey, but there are ones in every constituency and county in the country effectively on death row with constituents wondering whether their local service will close,” he declared.

If they weren’t so worked up, the Healy-Raes (Michael is a postmaster in his spare time) would have been proud at Mr MacSharry’s brazen name-checking of constituency towns. Alas, the Taoiseach told him he didn’t know because it’s not a Government report.

And all the while Willie O’Dea managed to keep a straight face and stroked his chin as if he’d seen it all before.

Online Editors

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

Also in this section