Leaders’ Questions is arguably the most important weekly event in Irish politics, as the government must give answers on various topics to the opposition parties on live TV. However, as it is held on a Wednesday just before lunchtime, its effects on the national political discourse is minimal. Unfortunately we’re far more prepared for discussions on sports, soaps and reality shows than we are political issues.
In this new series on FPP we’ll be taking notes throughout both the Dáil session and RTÉ’s coverage, with much para-phrasing of course…
Host – Sharon Ni Bheolain
Panel – Fergus O’Dowd TD – FG
Michael O’Regan – Irish Times
Michael Lehane – RTE pol corr
ML – FG seems to be rallying around Tanaiste on 12-week
MOR – It’s going to be a long campaign
FOD – I’m in favour of change, when you bring it down to family you’d change your views. We’ve a lot of persuading to do – HE DOESNT DIRECTLY ANSWER QUESTION when asked which side of LV/SC divide he’s on
SNB – could referendum be passed but legislation not go through Dail?
ML – yes that is a prospect, there might be a ‘compromise’
MOR – Martin reckons legislation could fail – I think the voters understand it’s a complex issue
FOD – We have a big job of work to do in debating the twelve week issue – do we need a bigger majority in referendum that 50%
SNB – the government needs to lead – is there a plan of action?
FOD – We need Harris’ bill to be exactly right
SNB – Is there an added complexity surrounding impending Supreme Court judgement?
ML – Some TDs will be guided by results, turnout and what constituents will say to them
Micheal Martin- A few weeks ago I raised a question about hospices, since govt has excluded them from pay increases. Funding has been withheld, MoH is now asking HSE to engage with these organisations, but that’s insulting to them, and a joke – I put it to you that they are being treated like second class citizens while govt is looking for credit for disability services. The issue has been to Labour Court saying pay linking to HSE exists. This is an issue of funding not industrial relations. There’s a drop in morale…when is govt going to do the honest thing and pay the organisations properly
Leo Varadkar – Its important to put on the record that there are many different organizations and a gap has opened up between them and HSE bodies. They’re not govt employees nor have they ever been. Labour Court stated that it’s a decision for employers, some have met the increases, in others they have not. It’s a diverse picture and in many cases staff have been caught in the middle. We still dont know how the exact numbers.
MM – That is unacceptable and dishonest. We know places are in deep trouble – are you saying nobody bothered to assess this last year? We dont want to upset the budgetary figures. It’s obfuscation and needs to be reversed
LV – it’s not fair, I agree. I can only give you the facts, one of the unions accepted out proposal yesterday evening
John Brady [Sinn Féin] – Study of deprivation in EU countries…lone parents and working age adults with a disability saw the largest gap between them and others in Ireland. 26 and 14 percent higher in Ireland ‘deprivation gap’. This did not happen in nine other countries. According to ERSI proactive steps are required. What specific measures is your govt going to take to lift these people out of poverty
LV – we had a lost decade because of economic crisis and we’re not to blame but we did work very hard to put country right and we were opposed by your party at every turn. We have turned a corner, we are on the right track. Your study also shows that the numbers are going down. The best anti poverty policy is creating jobs and we’re aiming at full employment in this country and those numbers are also showing progress. We’re also increasing social welfare, educational supports, family income supplements and lone parent payments. On disability we have the Missing Work Pay Report. That’s a flavour of what we’re doing and I wish we had more time
JB – ESRI report shows that vulnerable suffered more under austerity. We published a report last week showing how lone parents can be lifted out of poverty trap. Have you had a look at that – if so, can you look at establishing
LV – I haven’t, but I will, what passes for a policy paper in SF is what my party calls a ‘press release’. The people who have suffered most is those who lost their jobs, that’s why our focus has been on employment. Employment, Child Care,Education and increase in welfare are the key things and this govt is working on them
Mattie McGrath [Independent] – Provision of home care packages, why is there a discrepancy in the provision of these services in some areas [like South Tipp General] than others? HSE seems unable to enact change. Will you commit to establishing the RIG Home Care Package Scheme into law?
LV – I agree that home care provisions needs to be increased to help free up beds. The budget supplies extra money, here’s some stats, and this is a significant increase. Most people accept the Fair Deal scheme works, what we suggest is something similar for home care. It’s a public consultation at the moment. Plans have been approved for 40 extra beds in South Tipp, it’s up to hospital to put them to best use
MMcG – agreeing with me and doing something about it are two different things. I want investigation that many carers re under 15 years of age???, it seems your spin machine is operating ahead of itself.
LV – I’m advised by MoH that it is under way and it will be in place before next winter.
Catherine Murphy [Social Democrats] – Pat Kenny Show and Prime Time have been talking about Dublin traffic congestion one of the best things we can do is invest in public transport especially with fines imminent from EU on failing to implement climate change provisions. Irish Rail have not received any new funding before 2020, and it has been eight years with no new capacity. What about DART underground? Will you do anything to help?
LV – Yes traffic is getting worse, because the economy has improved and people are working again, amn’t I great. I’m mentioning the Lost Decade again to have a pop at Fianna Fail. There have been improvements, Phoenix tunnel, Luad cross city, RTPI, integrated ticketing, even when we had no money….now we’re planning a ten-year investment in infrastructure, Irish Rail are funded to refurbished
CM – ??????????
They cut off Deputy Murphy’s second question to return to studio but for the life of me I can’t understand why because there was no analysis to speak of – SNB essentially went over the various questions while the panel repeated the answers that were given in the Dáil chamber. You could say Deputy O’Dowd was put under some pressure by SNB but there were no real answers given, except of course at the very end when he had another chance to respond to Deputy Murphy’s first question.
Really annoyed they cut to the studio before Deputy Murphy could ask her follow-up. The whole point of having a second question is so that you can respond to the first answer. And it’s not as though the so-called ‘analysis’ was up to much either. If you’re going to bother with a studio presence, better to make the show for an entire hour so you can see the entire Dáil session as well as having time for a decent discussion.
Also, I don’t see the point for having Sharon AND the RTE political correspondent. As Gemma O’Doherty once said of an interview on the Late Late, it’s ‘RTÉ talking to RTÉ’. Let Sharon represent the broadcaster and get another pundit, preferably another TD, and those in the studio should be from parties who were’t involved on the day.
Then we have the fact that for the second week in a row the Eighth Amendment was discussed in the ‘pre-game’ without it ever being mentioned in Leaders’ Questions. It seems that often TDs use their time to ask questions they have trouble getting answers during the more specialised Dáil sessions, which means this national spotlight can often be wasted to an extent.
When it comes to my comments on this session itself…it looks like Varadkar is quite adept at taking any challenge put to him and spinning it to make himself and his party look good, which I suppose as a politician is the essence of his job, but it’s a shame the second questions aren’t used more often like Mattie McGrath whose spin machine comment was the highlight of the half-hour.
One final comment on the time limits for both questions and responses…I get why they exist as they can’t be there forever as the Taoiseach has other things to be doing. However, I wonder if he was talking to one of his party’s donors would there be a ticking clock and a switched-off microphone? JLP