Dog days in the Dáil as Ruth causes uproar in chamber
Who let the dogs out? One minute, the Dáil chamber was humming along with its usual level of disgruntled point-scoring and sporadic heckling, and the next it was hopping with howling, baying TDs crying havoc.
Chief Whip Paul Kehoe was practically elevating off the floor in rage, barking at the Leas Ceann Comhairle Michael Kitt and demanding that the deputy across on the other side withdraw her "scurrilous remarks".
It had been quite a fractious Leaders' Questions from the start. Mary Lou McDonald excoriated the Tánaiste over the arrests in the Jobstown area pertaining to last November's protest.
"Seventeen arrests have been made to date. It is reported that up to 33 people will be detained in the coming days. Do you stand over the manner in which the gardaí are conducting these arrests and treating the people of Jobstown?" she asked Joan.
The Tánaiste was circumspect - she had to be, as any comment on an ongoing garda operation by a senior member of Government would be viewed as political interference.
"We should let the law take its course without interference or hindrance from anybody," she hedged.
If the Sinn Féin deputy leader was dissatisfied with that reply, it was nothing in comparison to the opprobrium heaped on Joan's hapless head by Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger. Eager to outdo Mary Lou's 33 people allegedly facing arrest, Ruth ratcheted up the numbers to Biblical proportions. "The talk in Jobstown is that a message will be sent out soon for the first born in every family to be rounded up to please you," she taunted the Tánaiste. "Is your wounded political vanity so precious that you need this vindictive attempt to criminalise an entire working class community in this way?"
It was a daft piece of hyperbole, but some of the Government TDs took the ludicrous bait. "Outrageous," chorused the backbenchers.
But Ruth wasn't finished. Other leaders including Bertie Ahern and Charlie Haughey had experienced turbulent protests, she said, "For all their sins, neither went and called out the dogs and called on a repressive police response for the behaviour they faced," she charged.
The Government benches erupted with rage. "She called the gardaí 'dogs'," bellowed Fine Gael's Ray Butler and Derek Keating.
Roaring and shouting ensued. A livid Paul Kehoe sprang to his feet and demanded the deputy withdraw the comment. "It's beneath her to call members of An Garda Siochana 'dogs'," he fumed.
Ruth insisted she had been using "a figure of speech".
Beside her, Joe Higgins backed her up. "She has clarified that she was using a figure of speech. 'The dogs of war' is a well-known figure of speech. You should read your Shakespeare and you'll find it there," he advised Joan.
But the hubbub continued. "'Call off the dogs' is what she said. My brother's son is a guard. Is he a dog?" bawled Ray Butler.
A dithering Michael Kitt tried to make sense of the situation. "In case there is any misunderstanding, Deputy Coppinger, you did not call the gardaí 'dogs'," he suggested hopefully.
The deputy stuck to her guns. "The expression I used was 'Call off the dogs of war on people in Jobstown'. It was nothing to do with the gardaí," she insisted.
Well, that may have been what Ruth intended to say. But the Government benches took full clamorous advantage, conveniently allowing them to move away from the uncomfortable topic of the Jobstown arrests
It's war all right. A dog-rough one, at that.