Monday 22 July 2019

Ice Cold Alex takes the Dáil hot seat with relish

Minister Alex White
Minister Alex White

Lise Hand

The eyes of the Opposition lit up when Alex White sidled into the seat usually occupied by the Tánaiste during the Thursday session of Leaders' Questions. There's nothing like the prospect of giving the new boy a rough time in the schoolyard to cheer up the likely lads on the far side.

The Communications Minister was deputising for Joan Burton who had been felled by a Leinster House lurgy, although she had dragged herself along to the bells-and-whistles launch of the Strategic Investment Bank alongside the Taoiseach and Finance Minister.

And so Alex was in the big chair for the first time, to do his very best to maintain the high standard of delivering at great and windy length, absolutely no information at all in reply to the opposition's questions.

However, he did catch a bit of a lucky break - coincidentally, Joan's weekly sparring partner and formidable foe Mary Lou McDonald had also succumbed to sickness and had dispatched Aengus Ó Snodaigh to do Sinn Féin's battle in her stead.

It was Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins's turn to put the questions - the party gives any willing TD who wants it a go at the Thursday session of Leaders' Questions, which gives the ambitious chaps a chance at practising being party leader, should the men in black suits ever come for Micheál. And since the leader has never quite gotten around to appointing a deputy to replace Éamon Ó Cuív after their spot of domestic three years ago, it gives everyone the opportunity to shine.

This prolonged dithering by Micheál over appointing a Robin to his Batman prompted one Fine Gael TD watching Niall's audition yesterday to quietly observe: "The casting for Harry Potter movies didn't take so long."

Indeed, perhaps Micheál should just plonk a Sorting Hat on the Ceann Comhairle's desk and be done with it.

Niall, the party's spokesman on justice matters, got stuck into new kid Alex over the escape from Tallaght Hospital of convict Derek Brockwell while in the custody of unarmed prison guards. "Do you agree with the Taoiseach's statement that this incident had nothing to do with the lack of Garda resources?" he demanded.

Up rose Alex to reply. Was he nervous? Was he heck. He simply unleashed his inner senior counsel, shrugged on his imaginary robe and curly wig and effortlessly patronised the living daylights out of the Limerick TD (as senior counsels do).

"I agree with the Taoiseach, in the sense that there is no evidence or basis for the assumption the Deputy appears to have arrived at that this incident occurred because of any lack of resources," he replied, reminding Niall that the recruiting of gardaí was back in full swing in Templemore.

Niall was unimpressed. "Despite all your political rhetoric, it was your government that continued the moratorium on recruitment, throughout 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The public is aghast at the situation that Garda numbers were allowed to dwindle," he declared.

Ice Cold Alex was unbothered. "But the deputy has no evidence and the deputy hasn't placed any on the record of this House, despite his bleatings that any particular incident occurred - either yesterday or on any other one - because of a lack of resources," he replied. "The deputy himself talks about rhetoric and about deputies on this side of the House dealing in rhetoric, but he has made a good fist of that himself this morning," he reckoned loftily.

"Hear, hear," chorused a handful of deputies around him, who had evidently been under the mistaken impression that Alex might need some hand-holding on his debut.

Alex also got a bit snide with Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who was eager to talk about his party's just-published policy document on an alternative to the Coalition's JobBridge employment scheme, which he said was "about displacing jobs".

The minister sniffed: "It's a good day when Sinn Féin is coming forward with a new policy. We have not seen very much of that," he told Aengus with relish.

Uh-oh. You better get well, Tánaiste.

And soon.

Irish Independent

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