| 7.5°C Dublin

Old tricks and new rants as our TDs return to the arena ready for battle

Close

It was an unremarkable start to the autumn Dail session

It was an unremarkable start to the autumn Dail session

It was an unremarkable start to the autumn Dail session

It was an unremarkable start to the autumn Dail session. Each party kicked off with the now familiar "away day", a process I will forever associate with Conor Lenihan famously falling asleep during a live morning TV interview. Th troops -with an election only 18 months away and rested after a decent break - should be battle ready.

Sinn Fein, on the offensive, squared up to Labour and claimed that despite the Burton "bounce" people should remember the Tanaiste is one of the "architects of austerity". The Labour leader's return of service was good; allowing Sinn Fein into government would be akin to giving the keys of the country back to the Troika, she said. Meanwhile, from their Roscommon retreat, Fianna Fail opted to bang on about holes appearing in the Fine Gael health policy. The normally mild-mannered Micheal Martin was throwing around allegations about false figures and statistics. Fianna Fail know from long experience that moaning about the state of the health service wins votes.

Fine Gael's away day turned into an own goal. It is strange how the mildest of difference between ministers can be elevated into a major row by the media pack. Ministers were doorstepped about Leo Varadkar's spat with the Taoiseach over health figures. No one will remember anything else from Fota.

One time Mary Harney and I were asked separately for our views on legalising prostitution. Mary was leaning with an open mind toward decriminalising it; I felt it would be misdirected liberalism to do so. The media went bonkers. The evening newspaper headlines screamed "Mary and Liz at War!".

The truth was we had never discussed the issue as a party or as individuals. We laughed about the tabloid headlines that evening, but as far as the public was concerned we were "at loggerheads". So, while there is undoubtedly an element of insubordination in Leo's outburst as Health Minister, its significance was totally overplayed. Like it or not, Leo is "gobby", and people like him for that.

The opening day of the Dail session was marked by a few harmless protesters at the Leinster House gates. Nothing serious, yet images of protesters being carried off by the guards made front page news. Back in the chamber, the grey suits reconvened. The newly-elected Ruth Coppinger raised the uncomfortable case of the young migrant woman at the centre of the most recent abortion debacle.

The Socialist Party TD made her case passionately, to the downcast eyes of all present, and asked when amending legislation would be forthcoming. This was a "sensitive and personal issue" whispered the Taoiseach in priestly reply; the young woman in question was "receiving the best of care". There is no appetite anywhere in the House for raising that here, 18 months out from an election.

Caoimhghin O Caolain of Sinn Fein raised questions about Agriculture officials turning a blind eye to contaminated beef (just like in the old days). The Minister, in response, resorted to shooting the messenger, and alleged the deputy was putting the beef industry at risk. One recalled earlier charges of "national sabotage", when Des O'Malley and Pat Rabbitte raised similar questions in the 1980s. Then, without warning, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter embarked on a eyebrow-raising rant from the backbenches about GSOC. The near-empty chamber was turning into a home for the bewildered.

The Fianna Fail benches are so grey and male; each sweep of the camera is a public relations disaster. The party is still dining out on the local election success and appear quietly confident, if a tad complacent, about gains in the forthcoming General Election. I guess they reckon the only way is up, and Micheal has notions of being Taoiseach. But the banking enquiry may dampen that ardour

The big surprise was the admission of some members of the Reform Alliance to the Technical Group, which entitles them to speaking slots and membership of committees. The move by Lucinda et al is bizarre. Firstly, it amplifies the irreconcilable content of that Group, ranging from loony left to far right and a collection of political mavericks. It is not a group in any sense of the word; merely an administrative construct to gain Dail privileges.

If there was hope that the Reform Alliance under her leadership held out some hope or relevance, it has been diminished now. Rather than forge a new beginning or party, as was expected, she is consorting with an incoherent group of socialists and diverse leftovers from other ideologies. After all the big talk, it suggests that Lucinda's dance of the seven veils may be running into the sand.

Apart from the festival of democratic engagement in Scotland, by far the most uplifting news of the week was Michael Noonan's unadorned announcement of no new taxes or cuts in the next Budget given the healthy economic growth figures. He is shaping up to be a national treasure.

Irish Independent