Notes from Dáil Leaders’ Questions – Wed July 4, 2018

Dail LQ notes

Intro

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 paraphrasing of course…

Pre-game

Host – Sharon Ni Bheolain

Panel

John Brady SF
Elaine Loughlin – Irish Examiner
Michael Lehane – RTE pol corr

Varadkar went to US and put his foot in it

ML – “At very best it’s immature”

EL – difference between a ‘gaffe’ and remarks at closed door meeting

JB – Definitely not a gaffe, the spin that it was private doesnt wash, he’s in ‘serious trouble’ and needs to make a statement and we also need to know who was at the meeting

SNB – He claims the remarks were taken out of context

ML – This is a gift to his opposition

Leaders’ questions

Note – text is paraphrase not transcript

Micheal Martin – Govt said homelessness won’t develop.  Children’s Right Alliance has released report on homelessness in children, CEO Tanya Ward “Children who are homeless lose out on every aspect of their education…”  There should have been urgent response from govt but initiatives see targets missed. Housing schemes including so-called ‘Rapid Build’ taking too long. Why the lack of urgency and have these children been failed?

Leo Varadkar – I can assure you there is no denial of the challenge we face as a result of the housing crisis and family homelessness, we are very determined to do all we can to alleviate it.  Don’t forget 7 year period with no houses built because of no money and no private investment. (Blaming Fianna Fáil). There has been some success, like rent control, amount in emergency accommodation is levelling off, we’re moving away from hotels and B&Bs, rough sleeping is down, and underlying problem of low housing supply is seeing an uptick.  

MM – You’re wrong in terms of the backdrop that you’ve suggested.  There have been numerous announcements, but poor delivery of all that has been promised (has figures to back him up). Why the failure to deliver? We’ve too much spin over substance.

LV – Let’s leave aside announcements for the moment (laughter in chamber) I came off plane at 1:30am this morning (‘awwww’ from chamber) let’s talk about delivery and facts (has more figures to back up his argument)

Mary Lou McDonald – Failte ar ais.  I want to raise with you the comments you made in New York.  It was meant to be private event but it seems to have been paid for by the Irish taxpayer.  You say you are in sympathy with Trump saying media have no interest in the truth. You have attacked Irish investigative journalism, programmes that have exposed scandals, hospital waiting lists, failing to protect children in care, housing policy, etc.  Time and again citizens have had to use the media to get the ear of the govt. If you were genuinely interested in the media you might have been more concerned in media ownership like Denis O’Brien. Had you said that, you would have had broad agreement. But you’re not interested in that, you simply wanted to have a go.  Can you tell us who was at this lunch? Is there a record? What else was discussed? Did you comment on other aspects of Irish society?

LV : Thank you for giving me opportunity to clear this matter.  I believe in the free press, very important to democracy. (CC shouts down hecklers)  I always try to be as accessible as I can be. I profoundly regret if anyone thinks I don’t support the media, but it can’t be beyond reproach.  This was a private event, I wanted to sit down with young Irish people living in NY, I’d like to be able to respect the privacy, we discussed everything from Brexit to the UN to Russia.  There was no speech it was more of a discussion. I did say positive things about the media like the #MeToo movement. None of that positivity was reported. My only reference to RTE (Mission To Pray) was when someone challenged me and I alluded to one particular broadcast.

MLM – That account  directly contradicts reports from those at the events.  You accused media of trivialising matters, chasing tittle tattle instead of important issues.  Here’s the problem, it’s your word against theirs. What about the issue of media ownership? You chose not to address that.  Did you mention other aspects of Irish society?

LV – I was actually there so I know what transpired, you can believe any information you want. The issue of media ownership didn’t come up if it had Id have addressed it as I have several times here in the Dáil.

Thomas Pringle – Your cosy relationship with FF has caused ‘anti-rule’ that has impacted my constituency in Donegal.  I’m talking about local small businesses that are largely left outside govt support. Measuring the health of this sector is vital, I carried out a survey which confirmed my suspicion that govt doesnt care about rural economy.  I raised this with Minister for Small Business who said issue is addressed but it isn’t. Please don’t quote me unemployment figures, emigration has helped that, not growth. Your policies have ensured that depopulisation has become the trend.  Tell me how you

LV – I appreciate that unemployment falls for different reasons, but I disagree that emigration is the reason.  My government appreciates the importance of small business all over the country, especially in rural areas. We have reduced the VAT rate from 14.5 to 13% and that has helped.  Parties on the left want to increase that which would harm these businesses. There have been huge increases in tourism which has helped areas like Donegal. Project Ireland 2040 will mean huge investment in all areas, infrastructure, broadband, etc.

TP – You haven’t mentioned anything the people of Donegal have mentioned like closure of post offices etc.  The VAT rate has been lowered all through the time of this decline. People say they haven’t heard about initiative and response from government and none of them have been asked, maybe you don’t want to hear the answers

LV – I’m glad that you acknowledge that FG is the party of small business, our TDs spend a lot of time at local chamber of commerce meetings.  I have figures to show employment figures in Donegal on the rise. (to supposedly prove that emigration not a problem)

Noel Grealish (RIG) – as we head to summer and budget preparations, people of middle Ireland find life is a constant trouble, the ‘squeezed middle’ get the leaqst amount of help from the STate.  These are the people who go to work early, but they are getting nothing back, Rents, fuel, child care, medical, electricity costs going up. They get no grants, no state benefit. They are being ignored by the govt which has most of its focus on certain aspects of Irish society.  Once an Irish worker earns 34k they pay half of everything above that in taxes, it’s building a problem for the future. Some progress was made in last year’s budget I concede, how are you going to look after the people of middle Ireland in October that will make a difference?

[RTE cut to studio]

Post game

SNB and ML basically re-hash MM’s point

SNB puts LV’s facts to EL

EL : Taoiseach acknowledged slow down in house building (though he was actually blaming FF)

SNB to JB – What about argument that it wasnt this govt that caused the bank crash

JB – There’s a housing crisis and what we see now is that the govt is trying to pass the blame.  This is a squabble that is between two parties that are essentially in government together.

SNB – It’s easy to say that from the SF benches?  You had an opportunity to be involved in govt but you chose not to

JB – We’re constantly putting forward suggestions, this is thrown up time and time again…FF and FG have said they wont go into govt with us

ML – after last election, SF changed their position saying they would only go into govt as lead party meaning it wasnt at table

SNB – Mr Trump wasnt mentioned in SF comments?

EL – repeats LV’s answer to MLM (why do that?  Sure we all heard it?)

JB – LV is clearly trying to spin his way out of this, and he glossed over the ownership question.  We need more clarity on who was at that meeting.

ML – I think LV is sticking to his guns….his apology is more of a non-apology….there is clearly some niggle there.

SNB – I only have 30 seconds for Thomas Pringle

EL – FG mantra ‘keep the recovery going’ mantra not washing in rural areas

JB – Income tax cuts helping is a myth, a lot of issues for govt to address

FPP comment

My core issues with this broadcast remain, in that there’s no need for two from RTE in the studio, nor should there be someone from a party that is already asking a question in the Dáil.  The aim should be to spread the representation around the other points of view of the parties and technical groups IMO. Plus, even without the current heatwave, I don’t see the logic in having this session at midday on a Wednesday other than out of a motivation to make sure nobody is watching.

But here, there was an added problem.  Deputy Grealish went to great lengths to ask a valid question, and then they cut to studio?????  I mean, I know it’s called ‘Leader’s Questions’ but shouldn’t that also mean we get to hear the answers as well???

And it’s not like there weren’t alternatives for them…they have their RTÉ News Now and easily could have kept the coverage going over there.  Or, they could have informed viewers that the Dáil session was being covered on the Oireachtas TV channel.

On the substance, well, the Varadkar/Martin exchanges are tedious to say the least.  It’s like they are manufacturing topics on which they can argue back and forth endlessly to put viewers to sleep.  While Martin made it sound like he is extremely concerned about child homelessness, both he and the Taoiseach seemed more interested in scoring Civil War political points.  It was pretty pathetic.

I may not be a fan of Sinn Féin but I have to say MLM’s wording of her question was impressive, cleverly working the name Denis O’Brien into the discussion, though Varadkar danced around it in both of his responses.

You had to feel for Thomas Pringle – no doubt he works tirelessly for his constituents but when it comes to standing up and speaking in the Dáil he appeared extremely uncomfortable in the chamber.  He didn’t take long to post his reaction to the answers he received on his webpage it was up within a matter of hours

“The Taoiseach was unable to respond directly to my question because he knew he had no sufficient answer as to why support has been so lacking in this sector. Instead he talked about employment levels and other unrelated aspects of Fine Gael policy.

“His reply confirmed the deeply held suspicions of current Government policy, which is simply that Fine Gael don’t care about rural Ireland”

As for Deputy Grealish, nothing about his questions on social media at the time of posting I will update when something becomes available.

One final point…strange there was absolutely no mention of water shortages or the heatwave.  Maybe that more than anything else illustrates their assumption that nobody was watching.  JLP

#IANWAE

Shortage of water but no shortage of blame in Irish discourse

THE ISSUE

As the Irish heat wave continues, arguably the most contentious ‘establishment v majority’ issues in recent memory is anything but water under the bridge.

THE MEDIA

Article by Sarah Burns, Vivienne Clarke in Irish Times on July 3, 2018

Irish Water warns ‘nightmare scenario’ if no big rainfall in autumn

“We need sustained rain. Unless there is torrential rain we’re looking at a very dry autumn,” Irish Water managing director Jerry Grant said on Tuesday.

Article by The Green Party in GreenParty.ie on June 30, 2018

Greens: Heat-wave exposes the short-sightedness of Water Charge abolition

“Government capitulated to populism and now communities are paying the price…The reality is that as our climate changes, these water shocks will continue and we don’t have a plan to conserve, harvest or levy for the use of our most precious resource.”

Article by The Workers Party in WorkersParty.ie on July 2, 2018

Dublin water restrictions show up failure of Irish Water to tackle infrastructure

“The government wanted to use water charges to squeeze yet more money out of the same group of people – low- and middle-income workers. Once it became clear that was not going to be possible, the issue of upgrading our water infrastructure was conveniently dropped from the table.”

THE COMMENT

We normally base these posts on one piece of content but this time we have three to compare and contrast, and it’s on that old chestnut of Water Charges which was bound to rear its head with the spell of hot weather we’ve been having.

Given the Irish establishment was committed to toeing the EU line of introducing water charges for regular citizens, you’d imagine a water shortage followed by a heatwave would be the perfect opportunity for them to point the finger at the #Right2Water campaign.

But why should the government and/or mainstream media do this when they’ve the Green Party to do it for them?

As you can see by the above quote in the IT, they chose to simply report on a statement from Irish Water.  No comment, no pushback, no challenging questions, just your basic stenography article.

Now in fairness, you can see why the Greens would be in favour of charges, though I’d suspect that if they were the ones setting up Irish Water it would look much different and would tend to levy more responsibility on business than private users.  That said, I can’t say I’m happy with their ‘giving in to populism’ angle.

The #Right2Water campaign, as far as I’m concerned anyway, was about way more than water.  It was a bridge (pun half-intended) too far in a continuing government policy of austerity, and in the end public pressure won the day.  For now.

If Irish Water wasn’t set up to benefit the people instead of simply being another corporation for the government to cash in on down the line, there would still have been opposition to it but I reckon it would have been much more difficult to get such widespread support.

Unfortunately it’s all too easy to spin the ‘well we tried to do something, and the lefty public said no’ narrative, but while I’m hardly a fervent follower of the Workers Party, their quote seems to be the most accurate depiction of the situation.

Yes we need better water infrastructure, yes it has to be paid for, but until it’s done in such a way that the majority of citizens pay the bare minimum while the tab is taken up by citizens and companies that waste this valuable resource, I’m afraid the stalemate will remain.  JLP

#IANWAE

New Iowa abortion legislation shows how Irish political climate might look even if #RepealThe8th campaign is successful

THE ISSUE

Ireland is set to hold a referendum on May 25 to repeal the Eighth Amendment which was added to the Constitution in 1983, and if the Yes vote prevails, provisions can be made via legislation for safe and legal abortions in the jurisdiction.

THE MEDIA

Article by Saeed Ahmed and Isabella Gomez in CNN.com on May 3, 2018

Iowa lawmakers pass the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban — as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected

“By passing an intentionally unconstitutional bill, Iowa Republicans have declared that they do not care about the foundational values of our state, or Iowa’s future,” Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa said.

THE COMMENT

With just a matter of weeks left until the referendum, the focus for all campaigners right now is on winning the vote, which of course is perfectly understandable.

But with ‘Yes’ consistently leading the polls, should they be reflected in the actual vote itself, I wonder if we need to be mindful of what the political climate could be like afterwards?

Removing the Eighth Amendment will allow for legislation to be debated and passed in the Dáil, but that can of course be changed by future governments, and whatever percentage of the electorate votes ‘No’ will become an instant constituency for right-leaning parties to court in election campaigns down the line.

Take the examples in many ‘Republican’ or ‘Red’ states in the USA.  The Roe vs Wade decision of 1973 allowed for safe and legal access to abortion across the country but since that time, state governments have passed a series of laws restricting access to such services that were so severe, particularly to women from lower economic classes, that they might as well have had our 8th amendment in place, and as you can see by the article linked above, Iowa is the latest state to take it further.

My hope is that should Yes win the day, it’s supporters will remain politically active to ensure proper legislation remains on the statute books indefinitely. JLP

www.checktheregister.ie

#IANWAE

The first two quotes in Journal.ie article on ‘Pro-Life’ SaveThe8th launch are from men…

THE ISSUE

The No campaign in the upcoming #RepealThe8th referendum is definitely starting on the back foot and thus it will be interesting to watch it’s media strategy between now and May 25.

THE MEDIA

Article by Rónán Duffy in Journal.ie on Thursday, March 29, 2018

‘Abortion is a licence to kill’- Save the 8th launches its referendum campaign

Speaking at the launch at Dublin’s Gresham Hotel, Save the 8th spokesperson John McGuirk said that it was “an outright falsehood” that “the medical evidence in this debate is tilted in favour of repeal”.

McGuirk was speaking following an address by obstetrician Dr John Monaghan who has long opposed abortion…

THE COMMENT

I have to assume the Save The 8th campaign media people were delighted at the coverage they received from this article in The Journal…’Abortion is a license to kill’ was their main message and there it is, right in the headline.

But when you actually drill down a paragraph or two, you see a different story.  I’m far from a PR expert, but given this is an issue that is to all intents and purposes one surrounding women’s health, I’d be surprised if having had all this time to prepare their campaign, the Save The 8th people would be happy that the first two people being quoted on their behalf were men named John?

McGuirk is well known on Irish twitter as a right-wing, shall we say, ‘antagonist’ and has been laying the groundwork via his account for quite a while, so it is no surprise to see him front and centre.  You can be sure to find numerous tweets from his account between now and voting day which are designed to provoke vitriolic responses which will then be used as ‘evidence’ against the Yes camp.  This is why my policy is #DoNotEngage.

But although I do feel strongly that men should be involved in this debate, I really think that pushing two of them forward at the very start of a campaign comes across as a massive own goal, once enough people draw attention to it, that is.  JLP

#IANWAE

‘Inequality in America: A National Town Hall’ is required viewing all over the world

Apologies once more for the gap in posts – financial realities mean we have had to prioritise our monetised site in recent weeks as it has been a busy time for content over there.

However, even if we managed to post every day since we kicked off FPP in August 2016 we wouldn’t have been able to express our core beliefs more than this one and a half hour long video of the recent town hall hosted by Bernie Sanders.  Please check it out if you haven’t already.  It’s a shame it was only covered online.

#IANWAE

 

#Right2Water campaign’s victory over charges should at least earn them a right to reply on further water issues

THE ISSUE

The Irish establishment / government took quite a heavy beating on Water Charges, and the way this week’s shortages are being spun, it certainly looks like they haven’t let it go.

THE MEDIA

Article by Killian Woods [with reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald] in Fora.ie on March 5, 2018

Ireland’s ‘fragile’ water supply could make firms think twice about investing here

“Dublin Chamber chief executive Mary Rose Burke has said the restriction of water supply in the capital could make some companies looking to invest in Ireland reconsider their options.”

THE COMMENT

For full disclosure, I took part in #RightToWater marches and did not pay my charges so it’s pretty clear where I stand on the issue.  But this particular post is more about media coverage than it is the water issue.

Check out the linked article on Fora.ie, a business site which is part of the Journal.ie network.

While I understand that the focus of this site is what is going on in the business community, does that mean it should only ever offer their point of view on particular issues?

This is an article in which the Dublin Chamber of Commerce is effectively being given free reign to offer it’s own take on the restrictions recently put in place by Irish Water.  Forgive us for assuming a like-minded approach among the Chamber, the Government which took such a bad beating over water, and the jobs-for-the-boys private company which it created.

While they don’t actually state that water charges need to be reinstated, it’s not exactly well hidden between the lines.  If there’s not enough money to fix the water infrastructure, they claim, then there won’t be investment which in turn means no more jobs.  The implication is very clear.

All I want to do in this article is present a viewpoint from the other side, which I believe Killian Woods could have done.  And he wouldn’t even need to ask for a quote either…he could have copy/pasted from the Facebook page of any anti-austerity TD such as Paul Murphy :

The water shortages we’re experiencing are a consequence of long-term under-investment in infrastructure. The predictable attempts to use them as a new argument for charges have to deal with fact that London, which has meters and charges, has the exact same problem. The solution is investment, which should be funded by progressive taxation of profits, high income and wealth.

No prizes for guessing which side I’m on, but at least I have presented you with more than one viewpoint in my article.  JLP

#IANWAE

Economic ‘experts’ from the mainstream media act as though crony capitalism is the only game in town

THE ISSUE

We always need to be sceptical of the mainstream media, but arguably the area where we need to be more so than any other is that of economics.

THE MEDIA

Article by Dean Baker in Center for Econopic Policy and Research on February 21, 2018

It Wasn’t the Market that Made Elites Incredibly Rich, It was Elites Rigging the Market to Make Themselves Incredibly Rich

None of the rules we have in place that redistribute upward were given to us by the market. They were the result of deliberate economic policy.

THE COMMENT

When legislation is passed that cuts corporate taxes it is chiselled into concrete, yet when it redistributes wealth among the lower classes it is written on tissue paper.

The reason that quote is rather clunky is that it’s mine, and I’m far from a qualified economist, but FWIW I reckon the #AppleTax issue and way the Irish government protects its corporate tax rate are at the forefront of a status quo that is generally accepted as ‘untouchable’ and similar thinking exists in other western countries.

For that reason Baker’s quote from his article is what inspired me to write this post, but the wider point is that when it comes to economics we have to look beyond what the ‘experts’ put forward by the mainstream media say, and that is where the internet comes in.

I’m not saying we have to agree with the thoughts of people like Richard Wolf, but if we are to have a full discussion on any topic it seems a no-brainer to at least discuss the alternatives and even a massive crash like that we experienced ten years ago wasn’t enough to have us wondering if  allowing the top corporate players to run the economy wasn’t the best idea. Since then elected representatives who dare to oppose austerity are virtual outcasts both in the Dáil and in media coverage of same.

So that’s my point…but if you’re on for getting more specific, check out this Op-ed in the NYT and then read Baker’s reply.

While Economics is an academic field in its own right, there’s no reason why we the voters can’t educate ourselves to a decent standard on it once we know where to look, and more importantly, where to be sceptical.  JLP

#IANWAE