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Tuesday 16 January 2018

'You no like bank . . . we no like bank,' TDs' pizza prank backfires


Five TDs, cosy in the warmth of the taxpayer-subsidised Dail members' bar, played a cruel prank on independent TD Mattie McGrath as he battled on behalf of a farmer in trouble with a financial institution.

As Mr McGrath, who is diabetic, was in the 10th hour of a sit-in at the offices of Friends First along with five others, Dail colleagues were creased with laughter as they made a hoax call purporting to be from Pizza Hut, offering free pizza to the protesters.

In on the mocking skit were Labour's Michael McCarthy, Fine Gael deputies Tom Hayes and Patrick O'Donovan and Fianna Fail TDs Michael Moynihan and Dara Calleary.

Mr McGrath fell for the joke, he admitted yesterday.

In the call, Mr McCarthy who has a reputation as a mimic, purported to be an Italian.

"You no like bank. And we no like bank, so we want to send you pizza. Solidarity!"

"They took me for a fool alright, I fell for it hook, line and sinker," Mr McGrath told the Sunday Independent.

But Timmy O'Brien of the Farm Contractors of Ireland (FCI), who was involved in the stand-off at Friends First, said he was "disgusted".

"They should be ashamed of themselves. While they were warming their backsides in Leinster House, Mattie McGrath was out working for a farmer who wasn't even in his constituency," he said.

The sit-in was in response to an incident near Bunclody in Co Wexford last Friday week, which is now the subject of a garda investigation.

Salvage agents acting for Friends First entered the farm at 5.30am and attempted to repossess a tractor.

It led to a confrontation, which is now being investigated by gardai.

Mr McGrath claims the family was left traumatised by the incident.

"The family are devastated. I saw them on Friday night, they need support; two young children had left the house, their younger children, young girls, when I went to see them on Friday," Mr McGrath said.

"We wanted a guarantee that they can sleep in their house over Christmas in peace. When that wasn't forthcoming at the meeting with Friends First, we decided to sit in," he said.

The financial institution maintains that it "acted legally at all times and was not in breach of any code of conduct".

"The agents made it clear to the borrowers that they were acting lawfully on behalf of Friends First Finance and that they were in possession of a 'bearer letter' from the company, which gave them authorisation to carry out the repossession on behalf of Friends First Finance," they said in a statement issued on the day of the protest.

Mr McGrath left the sit-in at around 11pm, some 10 hours after it began.

Others stayed until 1.30am on Wednesday morning – Budget day.

Mr McGrath said yesterday he had received what he called "a letter of comfort" from Friends First, saying that there would be no further action involving the farm in Co Wexford until the garda investigation was completed.

"The family can rest easy for Christmas," he said.

All five TDs involved in the prank were contacted yesterday.

Deputy Tom Hayes admitted the prank call had been made.

"It was only a joke. There was no harm meant," he said.

A chastened Deputy Michael Moynihan told the Sunday Independent: "No one in the Oireachtas underestimates the difficulties faced by farmers with the banks. I meet them every week.

"It was a prank on Mattie but it was meant in good spirit."

The other deputies involved did not return calls.

Sunday Independent

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