Friday 15 December 2017

Sexist abuse, ugly scenes that tarnished the Seanad

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE Seanad has witnessed new parliamentary lows with the use of sexist language and ill-tempered debate – just days after the "lapgate" scenes in the Dail.

Controversial senator David Norris – a former candidate for the Presidency – was being blamed for tarnishing the reputation of the Senate as it debated its very survival.

The politician, who recently revealed he was battling cancer, fired off "sexist" comments at a female TD in the senate chamber.

Separately Mr Norris and two Fianna Fail senators, Mary White and Terry Leyden, compared a minister and a TD to the Nazis in ugly scenes rarely witnessed before in the Upper House.

In unparliamentary language that drew widespread criticism, Mr Norris accused Fine Gael's Regina Doherty – a first-time TD – of "talking through her fanny".

Ms Doherty said she was "upset" by the remarks, which she described as "contrived and intentional".

Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris
Regina Doherty and Richard Bruton at the announcement of the Fine Gael team for the Seanad Abolition Referendum at Leinster House.

"I will be making a formal complaint to the leader of the Seanad in relation to Senator Norris's comments," the Meath East TD said.

"Senator Norris's sexist and deeply inappropriate language certainly brought public attention to the Seanad.

"But his comments have done absolutely nothing to strengthen his claim that the superior level of debate in the Seanad means the Upper House is worth saving," she added.

The astonishingly bad-tempered language about the Fine Gael deputy director of elections for the Seanad referendum was roundly condemned by fellow politicians.

The senator said he was objecting to the fact that people who were over 20 years in the Seanad "should have to listen to The Regina Monologues from somebody who is not a wet weekend in this house talking through her fanny. I object in the strongest possible way."

The angry scenes came just days after a public furore over a TD pulling a female colleague on to his lap during a late-night Dail session on the abortion bill.

The angry scenes in the Seanad – which will tomorrow night vote on the bill to allow a referendum on its own abolition – saw Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, who is Fine Gael's director of elections for the referendum, compared to Hitler.

Ms White's remark that claims Mr Bruton made on the cost of the Seanad were "like propaganda from Hitler" was described as "outrageous"; while Fianna Fail senator Terry Leyden compared it to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Ms White last night said the comment should be regarded as "a metaphor" for Nazi manipulation, adding that it "just sprang to my mind".

But Mr Norris's comments about Ms Doherty sparked outrage and were immediately labelled "sexist, crude, offensive and deeply inappropriate".

In between Seanad votes, Mr Norris could be heard saying their claims were "just appalling, Goebbels-like propaganda".

He also gloated about his comments on Ms Doherty, joking with colleagues: "The Regina Monologues – tweet that."

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar last night led calls for Mr Norris to withdraw the remarks, but the Trinity senator dismissed the Irish Independent when approached.

Mr Norris could be asked by the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Paddy Burke, to withdraw his remarks if a complaint is made to the Oireachtas. The issue could also be referred to the Seanad Committee on Procedures and Privileges, the ruling body for the Upper House.

Mr Burke was in the chair at the time, but said he couldn't hear what Mr Norris said because of "all the commotion".

"I would have dealt with it there and then if I had heard it but it could be hard to do so retrospectively," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton declined to comment, but Fine Gael sources claimed the farcical scenes strengthened the case for abolishing the Seanad entirely.

Mr Varadkar said: "A number of senators made some outrageous remarks in the Seanad, not least David Norris and Mary White, who should withdraw their claims.

"These remarks are a poor reflection on the chamber itself and I do not believe they are representative of the views of most senators."


Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor also called the comments "sexist, crude, offensive and deeply inappropriate".

"He (Norris) launched a personal, misogynist attack on one of my female colleagues that was completely out of order. He should apologise and withdraw his comments immediately. We have reached a new low," she said.

"Some of the behaviour in Leinster House over the last week has quite rightly been called into question. We haven't covered ourselves in glory."

Irish Independent

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