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Mathews should stop playing to the gallery

Even by the relaxed standards of Leinster House, Wednesday's events at the Oireachtas finance committee were truly bizarre.

Not alone did several Fine Gael members of the committee go walkabout, the party's TD and widely advertised banking "expert" Peter Mathews was forced to vote against a proposal he himself had tabled.

The consequences of the truant Fine Gael committee members were very quickly felt with the Government suffering its first parliamentary defeat since coming to power a year ago. For a government with such an unprecedented majority, engineering such a defeat represented a truly remarkable feat of parliamentary arithmetic.

However, the fallout from the Mathews proposal could well be felt long after the absent Fine Gael committee members have been forgotten about. Mr Mathews tabled a proposal to summon Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan to appear before the committee on March 23, just eight days before Ireland is due to repay another €3.1bn of Anglo promissory notes.

In doing so, it never seems to have occurred to Mr Mathews that dragging Prof Honohan before the committee at such a potentially sensitive time might inflict serious damage on the Government's hopes of postponing the promissory note payment. For any TD to make such a basic error would have been bad enough. For Mr Mathews, who was elected to the Dail a year ago largely on the basis of his perceived expertise in matters of banking, it was utterly incomprehensible.

After all it wasn't even as if Prof Honohan was playing hard to get with the committee. Mindful, no doubt, of the repayment deadline, he had already indicated his willingness to appear before the committee next month. Amazingly the possible implications of what he was proposing seem to have passed completely over Mr Mathews's head.

Subjecting Prof Honohan to a parliamentary grilling at a time when this country could well be involved in extremely sensitive financial negotiation with the EU and ECB beggars belief. With his party leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, having already warned the Dail that it would be extremely unwise to unveil the Government's preferred conclusion in advance of the conclusion of negotiations, that Mr Mathews should then table his motion seems utterly incredible.

Mr Mathews is learning the hard way that the talents of a pundit don't necessarily translate into those of a politician and that glib throwaway lines that play so well in a TV studio cut no ice with battle-hardened TDs and senators. Mr Mathews needs to learn the lessons of Wednesday night.

He should stop playing to the gallery, spend less time seeking media attention and devote his efforts to acquiring the skills and expertise necessary to become an effective parliamentarian instead.

Irish Independent