It isn’t Ming’s stunt that makes us despair of the Dáil

THE opposition stormed out of the Dáil — nobody noticed. The stunt, which was to protest the Government’s habit of railroading legislation through the Oireachtas only drew mild attention because it followed a TD’s bid to get a minister to drink contaminated water during a rowdy debate on the introduction of metering.

It isn’t Ming’s stunt that makes us despair of the Dáil

Publicity-seeking machine, and TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim, Ming Flanagan held up the water and said it was the “glorified piss” his constituents were expected to drink — and would soon be forced to pay for.

Flanagan then plonked the offending liquid down in front of junior environment minister Fergus O’Dowd and implored him to drink it.

But for once the Government was not taking the (glorified) piss and Mr O’Dowd merely examined the cryptosporidium-laced water before having it removed.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett got into quite the tizzy over the affair and accused Flanagan of committing “an act of vandalism” in the chamber which lowered the standing of the national parliament in the eyes of the public.

Really, Mr Barrett? That’s what makes voters despair of the Dáil?

It isn’t the over-riding high-handedness of an executive which uses its massive majority to ram everything through the chamber without proper debate?

It isn’t the fact there is no effective, coherent opposition to such diktat tactics that have led to countless policy blunders, such as forcing people who have already sold their home to still have to pay the property tax on it next year anyway?

Mr Barrett has called an emergency meeting of the Dáil’s committee on procedure and privileges to discus the Ming sting, yet no such urgency was seen after the infamous ‘lapgate’ incident that damaged the image of Ireland across the globe when FG TD Tom Barry pulled colleague Áine Collins down onto his lap as it emerged some deputies had been boozing in the Dáil bar until 5am while they were supposed to be debating the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

And maybe the privilege committee could have a little chat with Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg while they are about it as he seems to have forgotten about the privilege of public service.

Mr Stagg shot to notoriety this week by loftily announcing he could earn more as a plumber than he does as a TD.

Though it seems he would have to market himself as a celebrity plumber to the stars in order to top the €97,000 salary taxpayers fork out for him.

“If I was working the same hours as a plumber I would get more than I am paid now,” Mr Stagg announced as he lamented the “serious” pay cuts ministers had taken since the crisis began.

Maybe Stagg could muse on the fact that Dáil deputies are still paid generously compared to their counterparts at Westminster who earn €10,000 a year less than TDs, and enjoy nothing like the lavish expenses set-up here after a spate of scandals forced in-depth reform and transparency to be introduced in the British parliament.

Enda Kenny gets €185,000 for running a country with roughly the same population as Yorkshire, while David Cameron earns €17,000 less a year for running the real Yorkshire, as well as the rest of Britain.

Indeed, at €157,000 a year, Irish cabinet ministers earn almost as much as Cameron does. So Cameron gets about the same for being prime minister of a country with the world’s sixth biggest economy, a nuclear strike force and a veto at the UN security council, as Leo Varadkar receives for a being a minister of sport who does not really like sport.

Mr Stagg would no doubt defend his bubble politics drive-by offence by citing all the hours he puts in, but this might carry more weight if the Dáil had not just broken up for a four-week Christmas break — not long after its nine-week summer one. Of course TDs work away from the chamber, but are we really supposed to buy the sob story that they will barely get a moment to grab even a bit of turkey in that month-long lay off?

But before the off, there was the swirl of pre-Christmas drinks with the political parties.

This column hatched a cunning plot to turn the tables at the Fine Gael bash so that journo colleagues would answer any small talk questions from the Taoiseach in the same manner he treats our queries at press encounters — by deliberately ignoring the question and answering something totally separate. Thus, if Mr Kenny enquired: “Are you getting much time off at Christmas?”, we would answer: “I’m glad you asked me that Taoiseach, Slovenia is the newest member of the Eurozone.”

But, unfortunately, this little wheeze was thwarted by Mr Kenny’s no-show at the event.

Still, we did get to see him on peak-time TV in his address to mark Makey-Uppy Bailout Exit Day.

It was a great PR distraction for the government, but bore little relation to the real world.

Ministers said we would be getting our economic sovereignty back, but the merger of the Eurozone under German hegemony means that is a long-gone notion.

And as we will not be making the final payment on the €9bn interest we owe the Troika for the emergency loans until February, 2042 — perhaps that would be a better, though less politically convenient, moment to mark Bye-Bye Bailout Day?

Serious questions need to be asked of RTÉ after it allowed the most question-averse Taoiseach in recent times yet another platform from which to talk at us without any threat of being challenged.

The Broadcasting Act states such TV appearances should only be made in times of national emergency, so it would have been fitting for Brian Cowen to take to the airwaves in November 2010, but he was so delusional and incompetent at the stage it was never really an option.

However, Cowen’s ex-colleague, Micheál Martin, was given a prime-time slot to reply to Mr Kenny, but as the Fianna Fáil leader is one of the architects of the economic collapse, it merely emphasised how ineffective the so-called opposition is.

Fianna Fáil carries its disaster-laden legacy before it, and Sinn Féin are economically untested and regarded as financially unrealistic by most.

While not quite worthless, the opposition has certainly shown itself to be impotent. But then how much are TDs really worth?

That’s the €97,000 question Mr Stagg’s staggering arrogance has left hanging in the chill winter air.

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