Collins' comments a shameless exercise in consequence-free politics

Collins' comments a shameless exercise in consequence-free politics

There she stood in a largely empty Dail chamber.

The day after the budget is the graveyard shift when it comes to contributions from opposition backbenchers.

It was the turn of Independents For Change TD Joan Collins who hit out at what she saw as the appalling response of Government to the housing and homeless crisis.

But she began by lashing out at Fianna Fail.

“When Deputy Cowen rose to speak on the latest Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil budget, he managed to say almost nothing about the budget and the measures therein. Although he is one of Fianna Fáil's most prominent spokespersons, all he did was treat us to a litany of silly jokes,” she said.

“Deputy Michaél Martin and those on the Fianna Fáil benches thought he was hilarious but they are easily amused. One of Deputy Cowen's jokes was about the left not being interested in being in government.

"I would love to be in government, however, and to have the opportunity to frame a budget that represented real change in the country and in the interests of the majority of people. But I have no intention of ever being in government with the party that brought the country to its knees just ten years ago,” she blasted.

Clearly “angry” as she described herself, one could tell she was building up to something, even if Minister Ciaran Cannon (the sole government minister in the chamber) was not that attentive.

As part of the ministerial roster, ministers are merely expected to sit in the Dáil and listen to opposition TDs berate them for several hours at a go. Most spend the time buried in their phones or Ipads.

Collins continued: “After four years and four budgets from the Fianna Fáil-supported Fine Gael Government, in each of those areas the crisis has become worse. More people are homeless or on housing waiting lists, rents are soaring out of control, and the poverty gap is growing. The budget says loudly, "Crisis, what crisis?" Then it came.

“Very few deputies from Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael are present. They are not listening and they do not care. Given the number of phone calls I have received from constituents in the past 24 hours, to put it bluntly, the Government just does not give a fuck.”

Not since a decade ago when Green TD Paul Gogarty turned the Dail air blue with his extraordinary “Fuck You, Deputy Stagg” outburst has such profanity been heard in the chamber.

Collins continued on regardless and it took Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher several minutes to reprimand her.

“I noted a few minutes ago that the Deputy was using unparliamentary language. It was a four-letter word. In all my years here, it has not be customary to do that. Knowing Deputy Collins, I consider that she is above that and should withdraw the word,” he said. Collins relented and responded by saying: “I accept that but I am very angry to see people coming through the door of the constituency office who are on their knees only to have the Government bring out a budget like this.”

“We are not going to debate it. The Deputy is well able to make her case without using unparliamentary language. I take it that she has withdrawn that word,” the Leas Ceann Comhairle stressed. “I withdraw,” came the response.

A quick check of the rules revealed that there is actually no list of unparliamentary words or phrases and the chair in situ had discretion as to how to deal with it.

As she did not make a charge against any individual member, there was no contravention of Dail rules.

That exchange with Labour's Emmett Stagg in December 2009 went viral across the globe. Very quickly online yesterday, Collins' profanity was doing brisk business in terms of hits.

While there was plenty of people who supported her in what she was saying, there too was plenty of criticism.

Most notably, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan dismissed it as a stunt aimed at garnering media coverage.

Responding to a tweet from this reporter in which a clip of the comments was included, Flanagan said: “Colorful language solely crafted to garner media coverage for otherwise vacuous & empty budget contribution."

As justified as her anger may be, Collins' argument was massively undermined by her claim she would “love to go into power”. Given the tiny size of her grouping, she would have to share power with a larger party but yet she made clear Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are too unpalatable, ergo she has no desire to seek to enter government. A shameless exercise in consequence-free politics.

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