There were disgraceful scenes in the Dáil chamber on Wednesday when an unprecedented outbreak of civility ruined Leaders’ Questions and tarnished the reputation of the House.
People said they’d never seen the like of it before.
The Ceann Comhairle had to be stretchered away to the private diningroom and treated for shock with warm slivers of turkey and ham. Stunned TDs could barely speak. The ushers were completely confused.
Mercifully, it didn’t last for too long because the novelty soon wore off and they adjourned for lunch ahead of time.
With hindsight, experts can now see that the ingredients were there for the perfect snooze-storm. Micheál missing. Mary Lou missing. Leo out on media manoeuvres. Christmas break just around the corner.
Add to that the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, taking Leaders’ questionzzz and Questions to an Taoiseach changed to “Questions to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach” Jack Chamberzzz.
Seán Ó Fearghaíl called on Sinn Féin’s “acting leader” to start things off. Claire Kerrane, TD for Roscommon-Galway, raised the matter of homecare services and the long wait many people have to endure before they are given a care package.
“People will be listening in disbelief today,” she told Michael McGrath. “They will find it incredible that there is no State oversight of homecare services on which so many of our older and most vulnerable people depend. In 2021, there is no minimum standard of care for homecare services. That is absolutely frightening.”
Deputy Kerrane’s contribution was thoughtful and measured, with no hoary old cliches thrown in to irritate the Minister. She was a scorn-free zone.
“Thanks very much, deputy Kerrane, for raising this important issue,” began Michael McGrath, with the big polite head on him. Then he read out a nice reply about the Government’s commitment to bringing in a statutory scheme to fund and regulate home support services.
Minister of State Mary Butler is leading the way on this project, he said, going out of his way to pay tribute to her “enormous efforts”. Furthermore, Mary is in the throes of establishing “a cross-departmental strategic workforce advisory group”.
Claire didn’t once roll her eyes or mutter disparaging words under her breath.
McGrath didn’t attack Sinn Féin and Kerrane didn’t attack Fianna Fáil.
The Ceann Comhairle had nothing to do.
Never mind. Alan Kelly was next up and sure to liven things up – he can’t help himself.
The Labour leader got to his feet.
“Minister, I’m actually glad you’re here this morning,” smarmed Alan. “And I’m glad Minister Butler is there beside you.”
Sure we were all thrilled.
He continued: “I do actually agree with the previous speaker. In my time in politics I’ve never ever seen the issues in relation to homecare that I’m seeing at the moment.” The Tipperary TD focused on the Dean Maxwell community nursing home in his constituency and the questions over whether it will continue taking in long-term patients next year.
There are fears in Roscrea that long-term care at the facility will be withdrawn on January 1st due to new Hiqa building regulations coming into force.
However, in his reply, Michael McGrath indicated that this will not happen and residents will be accepted next year. He said if a plan is agreed to secure the future of the facility he doesn’t think funding will be a problem.
“We have a very large capital envelope now set out in the context of the National Development Plan – a total of €165 billion.”
If that wasn’t encouraging enough, he added: “Minister Butler is personally committed to making progress on this issue.”
Alan Kelly was heartened to hear it.
“Thank you, Minister,” he replied, sounding surprised by his own words. “It must be the spirit of Christmas, but that was a very good response.”
The third TD from Tipp to contribute to this genteel session of stand-in Leaders’ Qs was Independent deputy Michael Lowry. He wasn’t going to be soft-soaped or sidetracked by any Minister waving a “very large capital envelope” under his nose, being something of an authority when it comes to ministers and their envelopes.
He suspects the HSE plans to close the Dean Maxwell to long-stay residents and move the service to a big new unit in Nenagh once it is fully operational. Lowry wants the Government to make sure this does not happen.
Michael McGrath made all the right noises in reply. At least according to the people who were still awake.
But Lowry means business, as the Moriarty Tribunal might say.
“In my political actions, I have always used reasoned arguments and logic. In the case of Dean Maxwell, this approach has been met with a deaf ear. If this attitude and policy continues, I will encourage and support the people of Roscrea in protest action,” he thundered quietly.
“I am almost never militant about issues but I am about this,” he almost shouted while stabbing the air with well-disguised menace and a curled finger.
Don’t be worrying, soothed Michael McGrath. Mary Butler is on the job.
And so finally, thank heavens, to Mattie McGrath for the usual bracing blast on medical apartheid turning Ireland into a police state under the jackboot dictatorship of the Nphet Nazis.
Another TD from Tipp. “The Premier county is certainly leading today, deputy Mattie,” gurgled the Ceann Comhairle, befuddled because nobody had insulted anyone yet.
Deputy McGrath made a passionate plea for Government support for workers in the entertainment industry who are almost “penniless” because Covid restrictions have taken away their livelihoods.
The Government has almost cancelled Christmas, he wailed. “But for the resilience of Santy ye would cancel it and that’s a horrible thing to have to say.”
Entertainers been “locked up and incarcerated for 19 months” with no sign of a let-up.
Has the Minister for Culture “some kind of death wish” against them?
Mattie believes senior officials in Catherine Martin’s department, for some unknown reason, are “not allowing these small people, these wonderful people – I don’t mean small in stature, no, my God, their stature is huge – to perform”. Big organisations and arts centres get “massive money” but “the ordinary man in the van” singing a few tunes gets nothing.
“And I do like to dance. Often we had a dance,” he said to Michael McGrath, hastily adding, “not together but with our wives and other people. We were talking about it as we were dancing together.”
“You’re a great dancer,” interjected Heather Humphreys.
“I know, I often danced in Cavan and Monaghan as well to Big Tom, nuair a bhí sé beo,” beamed Mattie.
And wasn’t it Heather, the Minister for Social Protection, who recognised the need to reopen the PUP payment and who has always been at pains to say we have to look after the people who are most in need, said the gallant McGrath. “I think it is important to put that point on the record.”
Heather was delighted.
Then the Minister assured Mattie that he had listened to him and his “feedback was taken on board”.
And that was that. Not a cross word between anyone. Appalling. Just as well the Dáil rises for Christmas on Thursday because this intolerable situation cannot go on.
Come back stroppy Micheál and Leo and Mary Lou, all is forgiven.