The opposition deputies did a double-take when the small gaggle of government ministers filed into the chamber for the Order of Business yesterday.
For the Taoiseach had decided that his Tanaiste's nerves might not withstand a third consecutive day in the Dail hot-seat, and so had prevailed upon Brian Lenihan to take the baton.
The financial geeks in Fine Gael and Labour perked up straightaway -- here was an opportunity to prise answers from the Finance Minister on all sorts of economic and banking-related kerfuffles.
The trouble is that the House rules ordain that questions raised during the Order of Business must relate to legislative matters only -- an edict as roundly ignored as the Second Commandment (the one about swearing).
From the off, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore were on soapboxes, peppering Brian with questions and opinions. The chamber was alive with the sound of grinding axes.
When Brian confirmed earlier this month that he was suffering from a serious illness, he stated firmly that he didn't want the opposition to ease up on him in the Dail -- and yesterday he was taken at his word. It was the Disorder of Business, the Thursday morning bun-fight.
Enda wanted to find out if there was any chance that other banks would follow the example of Permanent TSB and raise their variable interest rate mortgages.
"What can the Government do in response to this outrageous action that will affect so many people?" he demanded. Eamon was equally anxious to buttonhole Brian on this matter.
"We cannot have business and politics as usual in this House while families throughout the country are faced with the type of news they got this morning," he echoed. The Finance Minister was unimpressed with this liberal bending of the rules.
"The Order of Business is as laid before the House this morning. I did not hear an alternative proposal from the opposition leaders who wish only to discuss banking matters," he sniffed.
But being an obliging sort of chap, Brian obliged them anyway. "Permanent TSB has not applied to join NAMA and it has not received one cent in capital from the State," he explained. "Once again, Deputies Gilmore and Kenny referred to a collective entity called 'the banks'," he added. (Indeed, perhaps a more appropriate soubriquet for this collective entity would be "the greedy chancers").
But neither Enda or Eamon was satisfied, and persisted in trying to nail down an answer from the Finance Minister, despite some mild protestations from the Ceann Comhairle, Seamus Kirk. "I rarely break the rules but this is important and I would like a response from the minister," harangued Enda.
"Is the minister saying that NAMA banks will not increase their mortgage interest rates?"
And once again Eamon was behind him. "Is the Minister for Finance telling mortgage holders in this country, other than those who have mortgages with Permanent TSB, that their mortgages will not increase?" he demanded.
But Brian Lenihan was proving to be as slippery as a bag of eels. "No Minister for Finance since the foundation of the State has been able to announce in this House what mortgage interest rates will be in the future. I was asked a question about a specific institution and I dealt with it," he replied, the very picture of wounded indignation. But despite the usual litany of feints and tricks, the opposition gleaned precious little new information from Brian Lenihan on sundry banking shenanigans.
They began to get cranky, and when the Leas Cheann Comhairle Brendan Howlin settled into the chair, he had to deal quite firmly with some fretful deputies. Donegal North-East deputy Joe McHugh was given short shrift when he tried to stray from the path of promised legislation, and told to sit down. Joe tried to resist. "There was a great degree of latitude here prior to the arrival of the Leas Cheann Comhairle," he sulked, but Brendan was unmoved.
"It is important that we have order in the House. I will give absolute latitude as far as the rules allow to every deputy, but the chair will not be simply ignored," he barked.
It was scrappy all around. If it had been a Robbie Williams concert, former FAS boss Rody Molloy would've asked for his money back. Or, rather OUR money back.