Thursday 23 January 2020

Lise Hand: Little leeway for the initiated as Dail dominated by Power play

Lise Hand

HOLD on to your hats, folks. The Irish Independent can exclusively reveal that after the shortest retirement in the history of politics, George Lee is BACK.

He has even got himself a slick new website, called Mygeorgelee.com, in which he has posted his mission statement.

"I have a lifetime's experience of change. It's my story. But this story is not about me. It's about you. And the change you want. The time has come for your voice to be heard on what matters to you."

And the website includes a biography of his early years. "I have a photo of a ramshackle pig shed. It's a photo of where I was born," writes George.

Eh, that's a whopping porky from the Templeogue boy, surely? Sadly, it seems this isn't a shock comeback from the departed deputy, but is another change-fuelled George Lee who is running for office as the Tory candidate for the London constituency of Holborn & St Pancras.

Still, if Enda could ascertain that this chap has an Irish granny, he'd be away in a hack. Fine Gael wouldn't even have to change their campaign literature for the Dublin South by-election.

But in the meantime, it was clear from yesterday's Order of Business in the Dail that the Real George Lee may be gone, but is not yet forgotten.

In the past few frantic days Fianna Fail TDs have been very well behaved over the whole sorry saga, preferring to sit back and watch Fine Gael knife-fights break out all along the corridors of Leinster House.

But during an unruly session in the chamber yesterday morning, some sly spears were aimed across the Dail from the government benches. The Fine Gael deputies had strutted into the Order of Business with an air of self-satisfaction.

After a five-hour post-George crisis meeting that had gone on until well after midnight the previous evening, the tomahawks had been lowered and Enda's scalp was still intact.

And to further irritate the government benches, they were faced with the prospect of Alan Shatter standing in for Enda, who was in France with his loyal lieutenants for a meeting with the OECD -- and Alan has a special gift for irritating the occupants of the far benches.

Some of the Fine Gael backbenchers were messing about at the start of the session, and rapidly saw themselves in the way of an incoming missile from a sarky Dermot Ahern.

"No wonder George Lee took flight," he sniped.

But the biggest ambush was sprung by Fianna Fail's Sean Power, who rose to address the Tanaiste on a couple of matters. As it's unusual for a government TD to contribute anything but the odd heckle to the Order of Business, he had everyone's attention.

"Two members who are unable to be present in the House this morning for different reasons have asked me to raise some issues with the Tanaiste," he said solemnly.

"The first is a question on behalf of Deputy Richard Bruton, who is anxious to know if it is the Government's intention to support the candidature of Ms Harriet Harman MP or if it will be putting forward its own candidate," he taunted.

A startled Mary Coughlan dissolved into giggles as the collective hackles rose on the still-sensitive Fine Gael gang. "The deputy needs to look at the problems within his own party," bristled Sean Barrett.

But Power was on a roll as indignant babble rose from the opposite side. "Deputy Kenny has asked me to ask the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if there are any suitable FAS courses for someone looking to up their game," he concluded.

Barrett was enraged. "Deputy Power is a smart ass and should look at the problems within his own party," he roared, as the fun suddenly went out of Fine Gael's day.

Still, it wasn't all one-way traffic in the heckle department. A bit of a shouting match broke out between the Tanaiste and her regular Thursday tormentor, Joan Burton, who was haranguing her at length about what the Labour deputy regarded as a litany of failures by Coughlan in dealing with unemployment issues.

A resentful Mary turned on the Ceann Comhairle, who was allowing this out-of-order tirade to continue. "If I am not going to be protected by the House from accusations that are thrown out lightly without the opportunity to give a full response ... " she snapped, but Joan was unstoppable. "They are not accusations -- they are facts," she retorted. "I am not completely incompetent," spluttered the Tanaiste.

Ah don't be so hard on yourself, Mary. You're not completely incompetent, honest.

Irish Independent

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