The Dáil's year in review: Tears, apologies, gaffes and cuts

As the Dáil dives into its long summer recess, political correspondent Shaun Connolly assesses the highs and lows of another year-long ride on the Oireachtas rollercoaster

The Dáil's year in review: Tears, apologies, gaffes and cuts

A CRISP RECEPTION

It should have been the day Mr Tayto met Mr Taoiseach but, strangely, the big yellow fellow was nowhere to be seen as Enda Kenny arrived to marvel at the adventure park built to honour the crisp icon.

“Mr Tayto’s busy, so he is,” an insider revealed on the promise of anonymity, before adding, mysteriously: “He’s been busy since that incident with Brian Cowen. Mr Tayto doesn’t meet politicians anymore.”

It seems that “incident” was not really Mr Tayto’s fault at all, but rather unscrupulous media outfits had printed pictures of him meeting the then taoiseach and made unkind comparisons about how much the pair resembled each other.

TALKING TURKEY

Kenny was clearly excited by Tayto Park, exclaiming “I’m a cheese and onion man” at one point, before he started chatting to turkeys.

Always the comforter, Kenny turned to the birds in the animal sanctuary and told them: “Christmas is over. It’s OK, you’re safe now.”

(WASTE OF) TIME LORD

Doctor Who? fan Alan Shatter surprised many by declaring himself the “Minister for Time” when he reminded people to put their clocks forward. Ever helpful, the Tardis-head added in a press release: “For those interested it should be noted that a new series of Doctor Who commences on BBC 1 tonight at 6:15pm.” The bizarre incident was not so much a case of Doctor Who? but Minister, Why?

PIMP MY TRIBE

Did you hear the one about the pimp, the prostitute, and the war criminal? It’s a national joke, according to left-wing TD Clare Daly.

Unlike the US in Guantanamo Bay, Daly took no prisoners as she declared war on the G8 “fawn-fest” and the national “slobbering” over Michelle Obama and her husband — aka Mr War Criminal.

Ms Daly railed at the Taoiseach in the Dáil, stating: “Is it not the case that he has showcased us a nation of pimps prostituting ourselves in return for a pat on the head?

“We were speculating this morning about whether the Taoiseach would deck out the Cabinet in leprechaun hats decorated with stars and stripes to mark our abject humiliation.”

SHE DIDN’T CLICK?

Daly then turned on Bono for hosting Michelle and the girls: “While we had separate and special news bulletins by the state broadcaster to tell us what Michelle Obama and her daughters had for lunch in Dublin, there was very little questioning of the fact that they were having lunch with Mr Tax Exile himself.”

A rather odd statement from someone who stood solidly by the Dáil’s very own tax cheat, Mick Wallace, to such an extent they could have their own mangled moniker — Click (Clare and Mick).

Mr Kenny branded the remarks “disgraceful”, but the image lingered of Enda slumped in a seedy Oirish doorway touting for trade with his little leprechaun hat on.

THE X CASE CLOSES

The wrong number dominated the Dáil abortion vote: Five — the number of Fine Gael X case rebels, when it should have been 100,000 — the number of Irish women forced to seek a termination abroad since that judgment was made. The restrictive nature of the X case legislation means nearly all of those women would still have had to make that loneliest of journeys, even if it had been enacted in 1992.

NO ENDA ENDA

Enda Kenny announced/threatened to go on as Taoiseach into the 2020s. The (hopefully) jokey admission was prised out of Kenny by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy as they celebrated Ireland assuming the presidency of the EU.

STATE OF GRIEF

A human ribbon of sorrow bound Dundalk together as the town’s quiet grief for fallen garda Adrian Donohoe rippled out across a watching nation.

Det Garda Donohoe’s cortege approached St Joseph’s Redemptorist Church with an honour guard of 2,500 comrades marching behind the hearse in tribute.

By the time the coffin reached its final resting place, twilight was beginning to fall as the haunting lament of ‘The Last Post’ rose above the graveside and drifted out between the sombre magnificence of the Cooley Mountains and the still waters of Dundalk Bay below.

A garda standing by the hearse, its windows dominated by floral tributes declaring “Daddy, Son, Brother”, wept openly. He was not alone.

ADAMS APOLOGISES

The icy winds that swept over St Mary’s graveyard as murdered Det Garda Donohoe was laid to rest sent a chill through national life.

The shadow of the slain detective fell heavily across the body politic as the murder became a lightning-strike moment illuminating much that had been left in the darkness. An overt consequence was Gerry Adams’ long overdue apology for the IRA murder of Jerry McCabe, the last garda to be killed in the line of duty, in 1996.

“I want to apologise to Mrs McCabe and the McCabe family, and to Garda Ben O’Sullivan, and to the families of other members of the state forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict. I am very sorry for the pain and loss inflicted on those families. No words of mine can remove that hurt. Dreadful deeds cannot be undone,” Adams told a hushed Dáil.

Though welcome, this statement raised immediate and significant questions: Namely, on whose behalf was Gerry “Army council? What army council?” Adams apologising? What authority does Adams have to make such a pronouncement, if it is to be taken as legitimate?

And also, what “conflict” was raging with “State forces” in the sleepy town of Adare, Co Limerick, that Mr McCabe’s killers believed warranted such a vile and needless taking of human life?

DEATH IN THE DÁIL

The shooting dead of Mr McCabe provoked heated Dáil exchanges when Sinn Féin attacked Fianna Fáil for opportunism over its opposition to the closure of police stations, as, in government, the party had agreed with the troika to cut force numbers. Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins, who represents the town where Mr McCabe was shot dead, responded: “You’ve got your own way of reducing garda numbers.”

AN UNCIVIL WAR

Enda Kenny attacked Sinn Féin’s “cruelty” at taking 17 years to apologise for the murder of Mr McCabe, prompting a stinging reference to Micheal Collins from Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn who shot back across the chamber: “Who founded your party? Gandhi? Martin Luther King?”

F-F-FEAR

They’re back! The Leinster House Of Horrors presents: The Creature From The Black Slump Lagoon — Fianna Fáil, the great beast of Irish politics, has risen from its shallow grave and now threatens to join a future government near you.

That is, if you believe opinion polls which have shown the party nosing ahead on a number of occasions just two years after they led this country to economic disaster.

TAOISEACH IN TEARS

Kenny, humbled and embarrassed by his initial misjudgement over how to handle the McAleese report into the exploitation and degradation of the Magdalene Laundry women and girls, rose to the occasion when he spoke from the heart to deliver a stirring Dáil apology after two weeks of delay.

“The Magdalene women might have been told that they were washing away a wrong, or a sin, but we know now — and to our shame — they were only ever scrubbing away our nation’s shadow,” he told an eerily quiet chamber as TDs and survivors alike strained in anticipation of the overdue apology.

Kenny’s voice cracked as he remembered the moment a survivor had sung ‘Whispering Hope’ to him: “A line from that song stays in my mind — ‘when the dark midnight is over, watch for the breaking of day’. Let me hope that this day and this debate heralds a new dawn for all those who feared that the dark midnight might never end.”

Kenny apologised a second time and the public gallery dissolved into a human wave of tears and hugs, as the decades of abuse were officially atoned for, as the wrongs the women suffered were dragged into the light at last.

A CRY FOR HELP

The Magdalene survivors had shed these tears many times before, but this time they were not alone — a nation and a Taoiseach was weeping with them.

One elderly survivor, shaking with emotion in the Dáil’s public gallery, gripped the hand of the woman next to her as the State’s apology finally came, and the pair sobbed openly.

The applause that began on the floor for Enda Kenny’s speech soon spiralled out into something far more profound, as the Dáil stood in ovation and acknowledged the hardship and pain inflicted upon generations of women.

The women also stood and applauded — for the validation of their long, lonely struggle, and for the memory of the thousands upon thousands of their fellow victims who never lived to see this day.

It was an extraordinary moment in Dáil history — one that befitted the presence of extraordinary women in the Dáil. Shame the compensation deal was yet another letdown for the survivors.

CATHOLIC DISTASTE

After giving God just two weeks’ notice that he was quitting, Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, then had the nerve to blame the Big G for everything that went wrong during his papacy. That’s gratitude for you.

Saying that “the Lord seemed to sleep” at times of crisis over the past eight years struck a very odd note from a man leading a Church that is meant to believe God’s divine hand is everywhere, at all times.

But maybe the Pope was just fed up with the rudeness of visiting dignitaries like Enda Kenny. Like a surly teenager, Kenny continually played with his phone during an audience Benedict gave to Europe’s right-wing leaders. An unhappy looking pontiff must have wanted the rude Blueshirt to confess: “Forgive me Holy Father, for I have SIM-ed.”

THE PEOPLE’S TAOISEACH

Kenny drew a line in history when he moved to divorce Church and State in a landmark Dáil intervention regarding the X case legislation.

“I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer. I’m going to have on my soul the death of 20m babies. I’m getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system, and it’s not confined to me.

“Therefore I am proud to stand here as a public representative, who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach. I am a Taoiseach for all the people and that’s my job.”

UP THE WORKERS!

Showing a distinct mastery of communication for a communications minister, Pat Rabbitte used a book launch to make a rather off-key joke on the day the Croke Park II details emerged, details that will, once again, lash into the low-paid while those at the top get a much easier ride. “Another busy day diminishing the living standards of our people,” Rabbitte mused to a rather mixed reception.

IT’S YOU, MARY LOU

Sinn Féin’s second-in-command Mary Lou McDonald was consistently the top performer in leaders’ questions across a range of issues, from the Magdalene Laundries to the Anglo Tapes, while Clare Daly was easily the best of the rotating Independent bunch.

ENDA ARRESTED

The Taoiseach received a chilly reception in the freezer section of SuperValu while canvassing in the Meath East by-election when he was verbally frisked by an off-duty guard.

The officer pinned Kenny to the spot for nine minutes as he let rip about Croke Park II, stating: “Some have got a lot more to contribute, and others haven’t got a lot left to give.” Kenny stood his ground before the pair parted amicably.

REPO MAN

Kenny fared better on the campaign trail as a would-be house buyer asked him at an AIB branch: “I’m going in for a mortgage, any tips?”

“I’ll come along with yer!” offered the Taoiseach as he whisked her through the doors. Kenny then asked the rather baffled assistant: “Can you give her a mortgage?”

Kenny’s enthusiasm was at odds with Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who gave the banks carte blanch to launch a wave of repossessions.

NOT SO KINKY KENNY

Quizzed about whether it was appropriate for an HSE-funded website to give teenagers advice on threesomes, Kenny was keen to avoid the term and would only refer to “sexual practices”, before adding, intriguingly: “I haven’t looked at it, and I’d like to see the site first, what the words in question actually mean.”

WOMEN, KNOW YOUR PLACE!

The Government’s new insolvency regime created concern over how much control the State would take over debtors’ lives as it was made clear if childcare costs were higher than the income of the lowest paid parent (almost always the mother) they should quit their job.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar ended up in hot water after signalling that some working women would have to choose between their careers and paying the mortgage if they entered the new debt system.

“I know one or two women who probably don’t make very much money at all from working, but they do it to keep their position on the career ladder, if you like, and that is a legitimate thing to do.

“But if you can’t pay your mortgage as a result, or buy your groceries as a result, then that is something that needs to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement.”

LEO LASHED

With the truth loose, the Government went into panic mode, and we then had the Alice In Wonderland — or in this case Leo In Liarland — scenario of Varadkar having to publicly apologise for telling the truth, because this had contradicted the untruths of the Taoiseach, in the Dáil, who denied any knowledge of the logical consequences of his own Government’s insolvency guidelines.

The entire mess resulted in the childcare requirement being quietly dropped when the final version of the guidelines was produced, but not before one newspaper ran the rather unfair front page headline “Leo, You’re a Disgrace — Mums”.

GET TD KICKS RIGHT THROUGH THE NIGHT, ALL RIGHT!

Tom Barry plunged the Dáil into international infamy when video footage went viral of him grabbing fellow Cork TD Áine Collins and pulling her onto his lap in the early hours of the morning as the Dáil voted on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Barry apologised and admitted he had been in the Dáil bar before the incident which sparked a national debate on sexism in the workplace — and indeed, whether the Dáil members bar should really stay serving alcohol until 5am.

Fine Gael did itself no favours by initially trying to brush aside the incident as “horseplay”.

SOUTHSIDE EVITA

Lucinda Creighton enraged her Fine Gael colleagues by branding their attitude to the X case legislation as “groupthink”. TDs backing the bill said the only group they were thinking of were Irish women in danger of losing their lives.

One FG-er accused the now former European affairs minister of posturing “like a Southside Evita”.

However, Creighton won wide-spread praise when she give up her ministry in order to stand over her beliefs. Her husband, Senator Paul Bradford, lost the party whip the same week for making the same stand.

A BOOTED BACKBENCHER

The same could not be said for fellow Mayowoman Michelle Mulherin, who had previously provoked international ridicule last year[/url] when she told TDs that “fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies”.

In another jaw-dropping Dáil performance, she made it clear she had chosen party over principle and admitted being strong-armed into backing a bill she still had grave reservations about.

“I am now faced with either supporting the bill or being booted out of the party, my party, and I am not going to allow myself to be booted out, so I am supporting this legislation,” she said.

BEAUTIFUL (PAY) DAY

Joan Burton took U2 to task for taking advantage of overseas tax breaks, but in the battle between Bono and Joano, the band could have hit back saying “look at you, too” as US senators branded Ireland a tax haven for global giant Apple. 

SORE POINT

In Alan Shatter’s own version of Wikileaks — Trikileaks — the justice minister ambushed befuddled tax cheat TD Mick Wallace on live TV with revelations the anti-penalty point let-off campaigner had been let off penalty points.

BRUISED AND BREATHLESS

The ensuing controversy left Mr Shatter stumbling around in a swirl of allegations after it emerged he had failed to complete a roadside breath test due to an asthma problem — despite previously announcing the illness had hardly any impact on his life. Shatter won the Dáil no-confidence motion which followed, but was forced to apologise to Wallace twice and emerged with ever-present ego somewhat bruised.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Simon Coveney survived the contaminated meat scandal with only a light grilling over why Irish officials knew about the initial problems for weeks before telling him and consumers about the scandal that would explode into a Europe-wide food crisis.

OH, WHAT A CIRCUS

Anti-Seanad abolition senator Marc MacSharry showed why it should be shut down when he accused Enda Kenny of being a “clown” who had “urinated” on the chamber.

SEXISM AND THE SEANAD

Lifelong equalities activist David Norris provoked outrage with an ugly rant against Fine Gael deputy Regina Doherty, stating: “I object in the strongest possible way to the idea that someone who has spent years in the House should have to listen to the Regina monologue from someone who has not been a wet weekend in the Oireachtas and is talking through her fanny.”

FIFTY SHADES OF RED

And so the final curtain descended on the quixotically theatrical relationship between Colm Keaveney and the Labour Party which he had insisted on remaining chairman of despite being expelled from its parliamentary wing for voting against child benefit cuts at Christmas.

But the split could yet herald the publishing sensation of the autumn as his diaries will lay bare the often torturous relationship he enjoyed with Eamon Gilmore as the two men fought for domination.

YES! YES! YES! MINISTER

Alan Shatter’s bonk-buster book Laura left him with something of the night about him as the Dáil debated daylight-saving. The chamber seemed to slip into another dimension as TDs discussed switching timezones, with one reciting poetry while another longed for the days when politicians sang some of their speeches, and Shatter decided to express dissatisfaction his book had not been mentioned.

But thankfully, before Shatter could delight the chamber with a few salty lines, Timmy Dooley saved the morals of the nation. “We need darkness for that. It is not one for daylight,” he declared.

WHISTLE BLOWN ON HYPOCRISY

Within hours of publishing laws to protect those who shine light into the dark corners of society, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was ordering a Garda inquiry to hunt down those responsible for the Anglo tapes exploding onto the public consciousness.

A GOOD NIGHT’S SHEEP

Labour TD Ciarán Lynch musing on modern media values: “If a politician was found in a hotel bed with a sheep these days, the first questions the press would ask wouldn’t be about the sheep, they’d be: ‘Did he use the mini-bar — and was it on expenses?’”

LEO LETS FLY

It was the moment the Coalition finally delivered transformative change — but Leo Varadkar sarcastically singing ‘The Red Flag’ while Labour lorded it in a luxury hotel favoured by the super-rich may not have been the sort of change people voted for.

The autumn “think-ins” of the governing parliamentary parties showed them both bathed in an ugly light.

FUNNY MONEY

Not one minister bothered to apologise to taxpayers for squandering €1.1m of public funds on children’s referendum information the Supreme Court ruled to be illegal and biased.

The fact the waste emerged as €7.9m worth of cuts to home helps caused major concern to vulnerable people. That it was announced alongside news the Oireachtas was to spend up to €175,000 on iPads for TDs and senators added insult to injury.

DIFFERENT STROKES

Step forward Dr James Reilly — stroke specialist.

Despite never knowingly showing shyness about his own abilities before, this new area of the health minister’s expertise only came to light after it was diagnosed by fellow medic Dr Leo Varadkar, who noticed some tell-tale scarring on Reilly’s visage that he pinpointed as “looking like stroke politics” after two sites in Reilly’s constituency appeared as if by magic on the primary care shortlist.

BAD MEDICINE

Junior health minister Roisín Shortall eventually resigned in outrage at the “stroke” — after initially voting confidence in Reilly in the Dáil. She now attacks him with such frequency and ferocity the duo should really be known as Dr Heckled and Mrs Jibe.

DOUBLETHINK ON DISABLED

Disabled people were truly valued and respected by the Taoiseach and his health minister — but only as long as they were in London winning medals at the Paralympics and not making a nuisance of themselves at home by demanding basic levels of dignity as they protested outside the Dáil.

Enda Kenny spent September banging off messages of congratulations to gold, silver, and bronze medallists at the Olympic Park in Stratford, gushing about how “fantastic” the disabled competitors were and how the nation “cherishes” their achievements.

If James Reilly’s cack-handed €10m personal assistance care cuts had gone through, would congratulatory messages have gone out to vulnerable and elderly people in Tipperary or Clare thanking them for remaining in soiled adult nappies for several hours because there was nobody available to help them anymore? Because that would have been the reality in some cases.

DR DEBT

As Reilly has failed to comply with a court order or clear the debt, how can this Cabinet have any moral authority when it is taking people to court for non-payment of the offensively unfair flat-rate household tax and one of its most senior ministers — and deputy leader of the dominant Government party — has a financial and judicial record like that?

NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Mr Kenny became the first Taoiseach to attend a poppy day remembrance service when he visited Enniskillen’s war memorial.

The lush green of the wreath he laid stood out amid the blood red sea of poppies. Its card bore the handwritten note: “In remembrance from the Government of Ireland” — surely, an assertion of all-island political legitimacy that would not be lost on hardline unionists?

PHIL OF IT

From Big Phil Hogan to Feck-It-Up Phil in the space of a couple of months, few ministerial careers have threatened to disappear down the drain so quickly.

Luckily for us though, he still found time to jet off at taxpayers’ expense to luxury hotels in Rio and the sun-soaked Arabian Gulf in order to save the planet in the manner of Superman at various Earth summits. Cutting water supplies to homes behind with bills for the new water tax is his latest wheeze to make the Government just that little bit more hated.

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