Wednesday 19 June 2019

As the senatorial guff still flows, now don't you wish you'd voted them out?

Senator David Norris outside Leinster House earlier this year. This week he told a radio interviewer he thought that the unemployed should not be allowed to buy alcohol. Photo: Tom Burke
Senator David Norris outside Leinster House earlier this year. This week he told a radio interviewer he thought that the unemployed should not be allowed to buy alcohol. Photo: Tom Burke
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

So, how are you feeling about that decision in October 2013 to retain the Seanad? Having any regrets about extending a lifeline to some of the motley crew that populate the Upper House yet?

Last week, noted equality campaigner David Norris decided to take on a really powerful and asinine special interest group in Irish society - the unemployed.

Speaking to 'Newstalk Breakfast' on Friday, as the Government passed legislation that will increase the minimum price of alcohol significantly, Senator Norris said he thought the legislation was positive because it would stop the indigent in his area from carousing.

You see, Senator Norris is fed up of having to gingerly pick his way through his central Dublin constituency, avoiding the hordes of marauding unemployed people swaying down the street carrying gigantic slabs of beer on their backs.

Quite how he knows these ne'er- do-wells are unemployed remains unclear. Perhaps he asks them to present him with an ID card as they stagger down the street.

He said he had "no sympathy" for anyone who would find it difficult to budget for the increased alcohol prices and added that the unemployed shouldn't be allowed to buy drink at all.

"I don't spend my tax dollars to buy drinks for people on social welfare. I really don't, and I resent that, I think that it's ridiculous that tax dollars are being used to fund drinking," he said.

Apparently Senator Norris thinks social welfare payments should only be used to provide a nutritious diet of gruel and water to recipients as long as they are dependent on the State.

So, does this mean that pensioners, the unemployed, and carers and parents getting children's allowance should all be denied a drink?

What about senators who have been pocketing a hefty salary and expenses from the State for nearly 30 years?

In 2011, it was revealed Senator Norris had collected a disability payment for 16 years while he was out of work as a Trinity lecturer - even though he was working in the Seanad at the time.

Senator Norris was entitled to the payments, but using his own logic, should any of the public monies he was receiving have come with an exclusion clause about the kinds of products he was allowed buy?

Maybe if Senator Norris worked in a parliament that didn't have two bars where TDs and senators routinely drink into the early hours of the morning, his criticism would be more credible.

He doesn't need to march through Dublin's inner city in order to see degenerate drinkers making fools of themselves, all he has to do is saunter into the Dáil bar and he'll find a few propped up against the bar.

Drinking in the Dáil reached such a nadir a couple of years ago that some were suggesting TDs and senators should be breathalysed before they were allowed vote on legislation.

So Senator Norris should spare us the sanctimony about those on social welfare, stressed out and struggling to get by on the margins of society, who dare to enjoy an occasional drink.

Having campaigned for decades for rights for gay people, laudably using his position to challenge stigma and discrimination, it was depressing to hear Senator Norris spew out tired tropes about the unemployed. His comments were enthusiastically welcomed by lobby group the Hibernia Forum, which suggested social welfare recipients should be grilled about how they spend their money.

Strangely, I don't remember a similar statement emanating from the group when RTÉ revealed last week that 40pc of the country's 949 councillors can't be bothered to fill out their statutory ethics declarations correctly.

Speaking on Today FM, Eamon Delaney said there was a "long-term dependency culture" in Ireland that had "survived through the crash".

This may come as news to Mr Delaney, but the economy exploded and unemployment reached 15pc a few short years ago.

Does he think those who lost their jobs were happy to suddenly be reliant on the State and living high on the hog on €188 per week?

While Senator Norris made his comments on radio, anyone watching debates in the Seanad last week will have witnessed oration and rhetoric that wouldn't seem amiss in an early morning bar.

Lashing out at RTÉ for its alleged "pro-killing of unborn babies policy", Senator Jim Walsh decided to have a go at Labour Senator Ivana Bacik, bizarrely asking, "could somebody please give Senator Bacik some treatment for her haemorrhoids?", at which point all hell broke lose as snide comments were flung from all quarters around the room.

Happily, Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson was able to restore calm by asking one of the truly big questions of our time - why doesn't the National Museum sell portraits of Éamon de Valera when portraits of James Connolly, Michael Collins and James Larkin are available? Yet another Labour and Fine Gael conspiracy, no doubt.

When the people, in their wisdom, opted to retain the Seanad it was understood that it would be reformed to make it more democratic and more relevant, a genuine check on the power of the executive.

Instead, despite yet another report on Seanad reform having been commissioned and published, to add to our already voluminous collection on the subject, nothing has been done and nothing is likely to be done.

A small cohort of county councillors and TDs can still elect 54 out of 60 senators and the next Seanad will be as stuffed full of General Election casualties and aspirant deputies as this one.

One suspects that, having witnessed the commitment to reform of the Seanad by the current Government, many people would change their minds about the benefits of retaining it if given another chance.

Irish Independent

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