DANIEL MCCONNELL: No sexism in Varadkar dismissal of ‘cranky’ McDonald

“Our Taoiseach calling a female politician cranky... Not good,” was one message on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

“Not acceptable, not acceptable at all,” went another.

The fury online was sparked by the third of three fiery exchanges between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil during the week.

From reading some of the comments, you would be led to believe Varadkar has a woman problem. Does he now? What rubbish.

Anyone who watched the entirety of the Taoiseach’s interactions with McDonald on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Dáil, would see that such accusations are not justified.

He was tough in his attacks, but it was not in anyway sexist.

Let us examine each of the interactions, one by one.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, the pair got locked in a tetchy spat during a debate on Northern Ireland.

As he has done repeatedly, the Taoiseach went on the attack and called on Sinn Féin to make compromises in order to restore the Executive.

As has been her practice on such occasions, McDonald found it hard not to interrupt.

Actually, she was in full disruptive mode throughout, making it virtually impossible for the Taoiseach to speak.

“This is the constant pattern of the debate we have in this parliament,” a bemused Varadkar  said, having been in the Dáil chamber for several hours at this stage.

“At least it is not scripted,” quipped McDonald.

“The only time you’re not scripted is when you’re interrupting, which is an interesting point,” retorted the Taoiseach.

“The Taoiseach, without interruption,” pleaded acting chairman Alan Farrell.

“The Taoiseach is so clever he doesn’t need a script,” said McDonald.

“Is it any small wonder that the people of Northern Ireland do not have a First Minister or a deputy First Minister?” decried Varadkar.

“It’s no laughing matter,” a clearly annoyed McDonald snapped at the Taoiseach.

“I’m laughing at you, not the issue,” he said.

“Ah you’re very cranky today,” he smiled.

“I’m not cranky at all. I find you facile and dismissive on important issues.”

McDonald then began to take her leave before making her way over to remonstrate with the Taoiseach, who was still in his seat.

Farrell, furious at her actions, then demanded that she leave, saying: “What the Deputy is doing is very unusual and I find it wholly unacceptable.”

“I am not disturbing the House,” she said.

“Deputy McDonald is disturbing the House. Please leave,” Farrell insisted.

“I am leaving,” McDonald said having finished her unorthodox chat with the Taoiseach.

She then allowed herself to be riled when the Taoiseach went for the jugular about her party’s failure to take up power in the North.

Earlier in the day, the two had sparred during Leaders’ Questions.

Having probed the Taoiseach about the news that AIB would not pay any corporate tax for 20 years, McDonald called on Varadkar to defend his budget decisions.

Varadkar didn’t hold back: “I compliment Deputy McDonald on a flawless delivery of her script. Pauses, intonation, everything was absolutely perfect as always. I hope she did not spend too much time practising it this morning.”

When McDonald followed up, the Taoiseach attempted to reply but was shouted down.

“It shows an innate contempt for democracy and free speech and it indicates the kind of society we might have if Sinn Féin ever got into power. In light of this type of behaviour, those in Sinn Féin would try to restrict free speech and restrict democracy if they were in power,” he eventually said.

On sitting down, it was Ruth Coppinger’s turn to question the Taoiseach, but she couldn’t stop herself from suggesting the Taoiseach had sought to patronise McDonald as a female TD: “I hope I am not treated to the same patronising and condescending response that the Taoiseach just gave to the previous female deputy.”

The tone for Wednesday’s tetchy exchanges was set on Tuesday when McDonald was sitting in for Gerry Adams at Leaders’ Questions.

Pressing the Taoiseach on childcare, she drew a sharp response from Varadkar, who said:

“I have to say I am a keen observer of politics. More and more, Deputy McDonald reminds me of... Even though their politics are totally different, Deputy McDonald reminds me more and more of Marine Le Pen because she always goes back to her script.

"She delivers a scripted question and when I give her an answer and ask her a question, she goes straight back to the script again.”

It was a remark that angered many on the Opposition benches and made a few on the Government benches wake up and sit up in their seat.

The truth of the matter is that Varadkar took her on forcibly — but at no stage demeaned her or belittled her as has been suggested.

As one of the most skilled orators in the Dáil, McDonald is no shrinking violet. She rarely makes any distinction on who she fillets based on their gender, whether they be politician or guest of the PAC.

Ask Joan Burton, Enda Kenny, former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, or former Rehab boss Angela Kerins.

All and each of them have felt the full brunt of Mary Lou’s exceptional skills as an interrogator.

She has gone for all of them with equal gusto and she does not go easier on the women because of their gender.

So, how then can she expect to be treated by any different standard when she herself is under attack?

There was nothing sexist in what he did but by taking McDonald on in such trenchant terms, has he made a big
mistake?

Has he just made her relevant in a way that can only benefit her and her party? Whereas if he had chosen not to attack her so forcibly, this column, for one, wouldn’t have been written and the issue would not have dominated the airwaves in recent days.

With Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil largely irrelevant in the Dáil this week, Varadkar elevated McDonald to a level he didn’t need to.

This was evidenced by her decision to turn down a chance to appear on Sean O’Rourke’s show on Thursday morning against a Fine Gael minister to discuss the spats.

She told RTÉ that she would only appear if she could go head to head with Varadkar himself, something that was never going to happen.

But those who have cried foul on the basis of sexism need to cool their jets.

As Seamus Brennan famously said to John Gormley of the Greens: “You’re playing senior hurling now, lads.”

No more, no less.


Lifestyle

Cork media go head to head in triathlon relay

More From The Irish Examiner