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Mattie bolts like frightened stag in night of farce

EVEN by Dail standards this was a night of high farce -- a parliamentary Killinaskully.

Like a frightened stag fleeing a wide-eyed pack of hounds, Mattie McGrath played the 'victim', while Green Party buffoon Paul Gogarty played out the role of class clown once again, turning the air blue.

And it all came during the second vote that had been called on the Government's controversial Wildlife Bill, forcing deputies to walk through the lobby.

It was all too much for the Fianna Fail maverick, a man whose conscience has an irritating habit of throwing him into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

A bit like a Pat Shortt character, Councillor Maurice Hickey, the bould Mattie McGrath was every bit the stereotype culchie politician as he blustered long and loud, until his face turned purple, about voting against the Government's plan to ban stag hunting. And with Tipperary and Waterford brimming with hunt groups, Mattie knew which side of his bread was buttered --and he will be king of the parishes next weekend.

Last night, he shuffled into the chambers with an air of martyrdom and faltered by the steps, prompting a Fine Gael wag to wheeze -- "come on down Mattie, the price is right". He eventually shuffled into his seat and proved to be the sole dissident in the Government's ranks by pushing the red button. In doing so, he found himself relieved of the Fianna Fail party whip.

"If Mattie was a racehorse he'd have to be put down", giggled Pat Rabbitte.

Undeterred at the 75-72 defeat, the opposition insisted on a formal walk-through vote that would see the deputies filing through the lobby. The long, slow shuffle of politicians got under way as they moved slowly towards the stairs.


"Mattie's a brave man", giggled Olywn Enright. Little did she know. Mattie might have been prepared to turn his back on the Government, but when it came to a publicly humiliating walk through the chambers, he lost his bottle. Desperate for a quiet escape, he bolted for a door, with all the agility of a terrified Ward Union stag. Thanks to his last-minute panic, the Government ended up with a majority of four after the walk-through vote. A trail of deflated deputies made for the door, despondent at the anticlimax.

Labour's Willie Penrose, worked himself into a state of apoplexy as he hurtled verbal volleys across at John Gormley.

"Minister!" he cried, with no lack of theatrics, "are you trying to kill us altogether? Take our blood and get rid of us altogether."

Then came the menacing threat that "this legislation will hang around your neck for a long time to come". Stony-faced, Gormley was unmoved.

"The position of the Labour party is totally and utterly hypocritical", he sniffed, making Labourites squirm as he recalled the party's previous propensity to condemn hunting.

The Greens then wheeled out Paul Gogarty for some light entertainment. He didn't disappoint. "As a small party, we are not beholden to anyone," intoned Paul. "We try to work for the people and for our principles."

"Mr 2pc", snorted Fine Gael's Ulick Burke.

By the time the final vote had been passed, Paul Kehoe couldn't resist remarking that "the only bit of hunting left is the hunting of Fianna Fail and the Government".