MATTIE MCGRATH certainly knows how to speak his mind. But up to the dramatic events of this week, he had been regarded by many in Leinster House as the boy who cried wolf – constantly threatening rebellion but never quite delivering on it.
In recent months alone, he had criticised Government proposals to reduce the drink-driving limit, criticised its response to the weather crisis, criticised the fact that senior civil servants were spared the full effect of the public service pay cut, criticised the Cabinet reshuffle and so on.
It was rare for a Government backbencher to speak his mind so honestly – and the media loved his candour.
Some of the criticisms were extremely pointed, and on several occasions, he warned either explicitly or implicitly that his vote could not be taken for granted.
But when the crunch came, he inevitably voted with the Government. So much so, that Fianna Fáil became quite used to the criticisms and the threats – and tended to disregard them.
“It’s only Mattie again,” became something of a standard response when he would take to the airwaves to voice yet another damning opinion on something his own party was doing in Government.
Mr McGrath’s threats didn’t worry the Government all that much, precisely because he was seen as the boy who cried wolf.
But this week, he firmly demonstrated his independent streak, defying the Government by voting against the legislation to ban stag-hunting.
The fact that the ban was a Green initiative, rather than a Fianna Fáil one, may have had a lot to do with it.
Mr McGrath, who represents Tipperary South, regards the Greens as an irritant with no understanding of rural life and far too much influence over the Taoiseach.
In an interview this year, he suggested the Greens were “too politically correct and need to be roughed up a bit”.
He went further this week after losing the Fianna Fáil whip because of his vote against the legislation.
“The Green manifesto: I’ve seen it, I’ve been on radio shows with some of the Green people and they want to close the zoo, they want to stop horse racing, they want to stop even the pussy cat going after the mouse. It’s time we called a halt here. It’s a joke.”
Fianna Fáil insiders believe it may be quite some time before Mr McGrath returns to the party fold. There is a view that his outbursts – although up to now considered relatively harmless – have become more trouble than they’re worth. For as long as remains outside the party fold, he will be classed as an Independent TD.
But it doesn’t mean he will vote against the Government. He supported the Government on a vote during the order of business yesterday, for example. But he may well balk at supporting Green initiatives in the months ahead.
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