Mary Lou gets a sharp lesson from Head Girl Joan
THE Thursday session of Leaders' Questions has long been the forgotten child of parliamentary business, an unglamorous fixture which plays out in the absence of a Taoiseach who only has to field impertinent interrogations from the opposition rabble across the Dáil chamber on three successive days of the week.
But not any more, not since the summer brought a change in the Labour leadership, and pitted Joan Burton and Mary Lou McDonald against each other for this third bout of Leaders. From the outset, verbal bullets zinged between these two formidable performers.
And so more and more spectators have been filling the usually vacant swathes of seats - both inside the chamber and on the Dail's press gallery - for the weekly Joan v Mary Lou rumble.
As usual, both deputies looked up for a scrap. And also as usual, the Sinn Fein deputy leader wasted little time in getting stuck into the Tánaiste from the outset. Mary Lou was scathing of what she described as the Government's "stubborn" failure to head off that day's teachers' strike over Junior Cycle reform.
"Why are you being so unreasonable? Why haven't you sorted this matter out?" she demanded.
Joan wasn't minded to take a lecture from Mary Lou on education reform. She reckoned she had the qualifications to talk (and talk and talk) on the subject, and embarked on a recitation of that particular part of her CV.
She had been a member of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), she had taught as a senior lecturer in DIT, setting and marking her own exams - and she gave the cailín dána opposite her a clear fail: "You're mistaken on this," she reckoned. "The teacher unions need to pause and think again about what is best for our precious children," she concluded.
Mary Lou all but snorted as she rose. "I'm interested to hear your exposition to teachers and to me presumably as a parent as to what is best for our precious children," she bristled, expounding on how the Tánaiste was wrong to try and compare very different types of institutions such a third-level colleges and small community schools.
Joan was straight back into the fray, pointing out that she visits a couple of different schools every week. "I go into very well-off schools - fee-paying schools...." she said, before unleashing a sly spear at Mary Lou: "....you'd be familiar with those".
"Oooo," muttered the spectators. It had been a well-aimed, if low blow, by Joan, who was happy to remind people that the Sinn Fein TD had attended Notre Dame secondary school in the leafy Dublin suburb of Churchtown.
Mary Lou ignored the dig, but simmered quietly. A few minutes later, Joan dismissed her views on reform. "I think you're wrong," Joan loftily informed her.
"I know you're wrong," shot back Mary Lou instantly.
But it wasn't Mary Lou's finest comeback. As a (non-striking) múinteoir would put it: Must Do Better.