Sunday 20 January 2019

Fusillade of f-words flies thick and fast while unrepentant David adds fuel to fire

Lise Hand

DAVID Norris was fanning the flames again yesterday, dropping all manner of f-bombs on a female politician – although this time his target was Labour senator Lorraine Higgins.

What could be politely termed a "lively exchange" – aka an unmerciful barney – broke out between the duo in the corridors of Leinster House yesterday afternoon over an email fired off to David by Lorraine calling on him to apologise to Regina Doherty for his use of the word "fanny".

The irate independent senator had no intention of offering a mea culpa, and loudly declared, "I will not f***ing" apologise to her," before unleashing quite a selection of synonyms for the word in question, many of them most definitely unparliamentary. Lorraine got stuck in right back at him – it was a high-decibel encounter, overheard by all sorts of ear-wigging Dail denizens passing by.

Nor was that the end of it. A while later in the Seanad, after an amendment vote on the abortion bill had been completed, David stalked over to the other side of the chamber where the Galway woman was seated and carried on ranting, loudly excoriating her for having the "impertinence" to send him such a missive. It was, he opined (without any apparent hint of irony), "incredibly rude", particularly as the first-time senator had only been "parachuted" into the Upper House as opposed to having been elected.

Lorraine retorted that he should "stop personalising" the argument before the warring pair went their separate ways out of the chamber.

But as the abortion bill continued to meander aimlessly through the Upper House yesterday like an unloved drunk with no home to go to, it was clear that for many senators, like some TDs, this legislation isn't business, it's personal.

The committee stage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill kicked off (in every sense of the word) in the Seanad yesterday morning, with 83 amendments up for consideration.

And that other f-word – "fraught" – was very much in evidence as the senators showed themselves to be in no hurry to hustle the bill along.

Thirty minutes were spent in squabbling over changing the name of the bill to include the word "abortion". Senator Paschal Mooney deplored the existing title as "a sleight of hand perpetrated on the Irish people", while Fianna Fail's Brian O Domhnaill had a go at junior health minister Alex White who, he claimed, had suggested that some senators had not read the bill.

"Perhaps if the minister had read some of the submissions of legal and medical experts, he would not be sitting there trying to ram a bill down our throats," he fumed, sparking a babble of protest from the government side. But it was Brian O Domhnaill's decision to bring disability into the debate that prompted fierce criticism from the other side, claiming that foetuses aborted in the UK would have had Down Syndrome.

"I know many people who have Down Syndrome who play an active part in citizenship within this country and who are representing this country in the Special Olympics," he said. "I think it's important if we are having this debate that we acknowledge that.

"I could not support an amendment where human life would be destructed in the womb simply because the unborn child is disabled, because I think that sends out a very wrong message in relation to the protection and the rights of children who are currently disabled."

The objections flowed in rapidly. "This has nothing to do with disability – it has to do with fatal foetal abnormality," stressed Labour senator Mary Moran.

"He don't understand the word 'fatal' and 'incompatible'," shouted Marie Louise O'Donnell.

"Senator O'Donnell is being very destructive in the chamber today," replied Brian.

Labour's Aideen Hayden tore into Brian. "I'm personally horrified by what I've heard from you, Senator O Domhnaill. You've suggested that every parent who has a disabled child is subject of this amendment, and I think that is just low, below the belt, absolutely uncalled-for and it demeans this chamber," she told him.

There was plenty of roaring and shouting. By 4pm, only a fraction of the amendments had been dealt with.

In the chair, a weary Denis O'Donovan pointed out that if this torturous pace of round-the-houses interminable speechifying were to continue, "21 12-hour-long days will be needed to complete the business".

A brief, welcome pause descended as all sides were united in contemplating this appalling vista.

Things would definitely become extremely fraught. Not to mention fractious.

Irish Independent

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