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Why it's time to call time on the Dail Bar

Call me puritanical, but I've always been of the opinion that legislation and booze don't mix. Particularly when the bar serving said booze is not subject to the same licensing laws as any other hostelry in the country.

But it's a touchy subject and one which people can become very exercised about. Last week, Gavan Reilly provoked the ire of a certain Labour deputy when TodayFM tweeted that Reilly had "exclusive figures showing a massive spike in sales in the Dail bar during budget debate".

"That's because more visitors come in then," tweeted back deputy Joanna Tuffy. "Every TD gets tickets for visitor into gallery. Not to mention journalists".

Ah yes. Journalists. I have only ever had the pleasure of being invited to the Dail bar once in my life, before I started working as a columnist for this newspaper. Never, ever as a journalist. Coincidently it was also on a budget night, during the heady Brian Cowen Finance years, far back in the Celtic twilight mist when we thought we actually had cash to spare. And certainly quite a lot of that spare cash seemed to be handed over to the Dail bar that night. Some, shock horror, even by journalists. And indeed, by myself. Mea culpa, it was a merry time.

But I digress and meanwhile Deputy Tuffy has not quite finished her comments to Mr Reilly concerning his investigation of Dail bar receipts. "Hope you got breakdown of what tea, food and which members bar and which visitors 'cos that's available from bar manager," she continued to tweet. "That is if it's not the usual attempt at hatchet job by a media whose members use the visitors bar [sic]".

Touché, Ms Tuffy.

Mr Reilly was not impressed. "I'd like to think you'd know, at this stage, that that sort of stuff isn't my usual style," he tweeted right back at her. And yes, Mr Reilly's investigations had shown that "in the Members' bar - which is open only to TDs and Senators, and where visitors are not allowed, but is also understood to serve food - sales were 27pc higher [compared to a similar business day three weeks earlier]". Reilly added, to keep his Twitter colleague happy, how "Labour TD Joanna Tuffy explained that the increase may have been because the debate on the Finance Bill culminated in a vote which required TDs to be on the premises for longer than they may otherwise be on a Thursday afternoon".

He included a tweet from Tuffy which said: "The explanation is that on Thurs Nov 6 there was a vote at 3.20pm on Finance Bill and TDs that would normally have left at lunchtime to travel to their constituencies would have had to stay for vote and takings include lunch".

So there you have it. TDs and Senators mightn't actually use their private bar for "drinking" in, just to buy soup and sandwiches and maybe the odd basket of cocktail sausages with a big pot of Barry's tea.

Meanwhile, as the TDs and Senators soberly made their way home to their families for the Christmas holidays, another family was spending the beginning of the holiday season in their own personal purgatory, thanks in part to the fact that a specific piece of legislation, passed in July 2013 by the Houses of the Oireachtas made not a damn bit of difference to the status quo. The bill I'm talking about was the "Life during Pregnancy Bill" which was supposedly meant to legislate for the X Case and make it easier for doctors and medics to deal with the extraordinary difficulties thrown up by the Eighth Amendment to our constitution. It didn't. This has been made clear in both the case of a young, pregnant rape victim treated abominably by this State and forced to give birth and the tragic and painful case of the pregnant woman who was declared brain-dead at the beginning of this month and whose family pleaded with the State to turn her life support machine off.

But our dedicated political representatives took the Bill for the Protection of Life during Pregnancy very, very seriously. It's not their fault if such a hames was made of the legislation. They spent so much time debating its faults and merits and talked so long and hard into the night and early hours of the morning that they needed quite a lot of lubrication for their hard-working throats.

On July 10/11 2013 as the deputies debated the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill the Oireachtas Members' bar (remember, the one reserved for TDs and Senators) took in a total of €3,326.85, €2,507,90 of which was spent on booze. Meanwhile the Oireachtas visitors' bar took in a total of €3,572.20. And of course, in any of the nearby bars of hotels this would have cost much more, because, the public, that's you and me Joe, are subsidising this booze fest. Why?

On the night of the infamous "lapgate" scandal when Cork TD Tom Barry pulled his Fine Gael colleague Aine Collins onto his lap, the Dail bar stayed open until 5.30am as they debated a bill which would seriously affect the lives and health of women in Ireland. Mr Barry, in his defence, said that he was not "drunk" though he had drink taken.

Now, my local shop wouldn't let their staff serve customers if there was even so much as a whiff of alcohol off them. Ditto pretty much every modern workplace that I know of. Even the days of journalists downing pints during lunchtime before heading back to the office to diligently write up copy are long gone. No editor would tolerate a tipsy writer or investigator.

We may be drinking more at home but very few can mix alcohol and work - it's just not tolerated anymore. Except of course in Leinster House where they seem stuck in a 1950s Mad Men scenario, where drinking while working and indulging in "horseplay" with the nearest unfortunate woman can be seen.

Would you let a doctor operate on you if he/she insisted that they were "not drunk" but had indeed indulged in three or four pints?

No, I didn't think so.

Would you get into a car with someone who was way over the limit to drive?

I hope not, or all those advertisements warning us not to are a waste of money. And yet deputies are able to vote on issues, quite literally, which concern life and death with a skin of drink inside them.No one is suggesting that our hard-working (and they are) representatives don't deserve a drink or two after the day's business has been completed. It's just the drinking during business which is so offensive to the dignity of their office. There's innumerable decent bars and hotels in the vicinity of Leinster House. These should suffice. And 2015 should be the year to call "time" on the Dail Bar.

Twitter@carolmhunt


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