Varadkar’s “altargate row” highlights all that is wrong with Irish politics & mainstream media

A classic example of an article prolonging the distraction from the actual policy issue at hand

JL Pagano What a shock – a debate over an actual issue that affects the country like a National Broadband Plan gets tossed aside in favour of a spat over a metaphor, all the while reinforcing the illusion that FG and FF are somehow alternatives for the electorate when in fact they are essentially the same party and are currently in a virtual coalition government.

my comment on the above Facebook post

#IANWAE

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

Notes from Dáil Leaders’ Questions – Wed Feb 21, 2018

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 para-phrasing of course…

Pre-game

Host – Sharon Ni Bheolain

Panel – Rose Conway-Walsh SF

James Ward – Irish Daily Mail

Michael Lehane – RTE pol corr

Definition of unborn to be determined by Supreme Court

RCW – ‘It’s important to get it right’ – in favour of repeal

SNB – What’s the official SF position?

RCW – Our position is pro repeal.  We need an Ard Fheis to clarify 12 week issue

ML – March 6 is when referendum bill will be clarified

JW – no alternative to 12 week provision, possibly Tanaiste will provide one

SNB – re impasse on the north, SF delegation to meet PM

RCW – important to restore GFA institutions, draft agreement in place

SNB – what’s in the agreement? There have been leaks

RCW – leaks not helpful, important to focus on the entire package

SNB – many in south scratching their heads that Irish language act could hold up the talks despite your new leadership not speaking Irish

RCW – it’s about people’s right to have their Irish identity

SNB – do we have a number on speakers north of the border

RCW – I dont have them to hand, but it’s about the right to have your Irish citizenship recognized

Leaders’ questions

Micheal Martin – HSE decision to cut thousands using patches ‘Versatis patches’ these are people on chronic pain.  It was like shutting down their own a and e department.  Here are some personal stories of the importance of these patches.  Joe Duffy has been the main advocate on this issue.  The suddenness of the decision was incredible.  This was about cutting costs but it has visited great trauma – can you and minister intervene and suspend the decision?

Leo Varadkar – Ive heard the harrowing stories so I looked into it last week.  We need to understand the background to this issue.  It is being prescribed for uses other than that which it is licensed.  You do need controls to stop people becoming dependant, plus there are side effects.  It’s not just about money, ten times as many patches being prescribed here as in UK.

MM – I dont accept that, I think this is a cost-cutting measure.  The sudden overnight nature of decision was appalling.  The time for explanations is over and a decision needs to be urgently revisited.

LV – there is a process in place for appeals of these decisions, here are some stats, those who apply for the right reasons are being accepted.  

Louise O’Reilly – Thank RTE investigates for piece on Alison McCormack – people should feel safe in our hospitals.  Patients should be confident that when a mistake is made all will be done to rectify the situation.  This was missing from the treatment of AMcC when her breast cancer was misdiagnosed.  She had to ask for information, nobody came to her.  Nine months was lost.  Why was she not immediately informed?  Another case had also been misdiagnosed.  Why was there no apology – will you ensure a duty of candour?

LV – I didnt see the programme but I have read about AMcC case and I deeply regret her case and thank her for her bravery and I hope the mistakes will not be repeated.  It’s a sad truth that there will be human error and the important thing is that there is honesty about it when they happen. We recently passed legislation to improve these open disclosure situations going forward

LOR – duty of candour i not statutorily underpinned in the legislation  Can you confirm that a second patient was informed that she was misdiagnosed and that there will be full and comprehensive review of the system,

LV – This is a matter for St James, they issued a statement last night, I sincerely hope the second patient has been informed.  I am advised by Minister for Health that they’re ‘on the case’

Paul Murphy – Re – your past dog whistle campaign on welfare cheats, thus demonizing unemployed people.  Here are some stats on complete lack of people’s security to plan their lives.  Jobpath is insufficient and is effectively privatising social welfare.  Penalty rates have gone up since Jobpath was implemented, although 84 million has gone to the private companies.  Similar schemes have been shown to be fraudulent in UK.  Govt’s own figures show the jobs arent being found.  Will you now read the writing on the wall for Jobpath?

LV – Welfare fraud is very real in every western society.  It’s people who are pretending to be poor and vulnerable.It disappoints me to hear left wing politicians defending this fraud.  Because of our actions we have been able to increase payments elsewhere.  Unemployment is down and that’s not just because of overall recovery it’s because we rock and if we did things your way we’d be like Greece and Venezuela

PM – It’s like Enda Kenny is back, you managed to attack something I didn’t say and didn’t answer the question at all.  Your Jobpath scheme has failed, what are you doing.  Since you are doubling down, why are your figures on fraud changing?

LV – My numbers are not changing…re JobPath you have to refer to ‘counter factual analysis’ which is a big long fancy term I presume will make most people listening switch off so I can’t be hurt too badly by this answer.  Again I say the unemployment figures are down

Danny Healy Rae – local question on water scheme in my area of Kilcumin [CC needs to call for order in the house] uses comparison between his area and D4

LV – Im afraid I cant answer the question as I dont have the information to hand, you should give us some notice in advance, in terms of bigger picture we’ve three billion for Irish Water plus another five in the future.

DHR – I’m going to speak a bit more about Kilcumin, every year it’s the same story the council have money for the road, basically I want my voters to see I’m doing something about this

LV – once it’s announced you’ll hear all about it, the appropriate minister has passed me a note saying it will be looked at

Post game

SNB and ML go over exchange between MM and LV but clearly biased towards Martin

JW says Leo’s logical approach to response may not go down too well

RCW – did the HSE ask for a reduction in price?  Was cost analysis done?  We’re debating this in the Seanad later?

SNB – what about the patient safety issue

RCW – If you have the money, you can get the patches and that’s not fair.  A full review must be done

SNB – on to LOR’s contribution re St James Hospital

JW – how many times have we seen patients have to go up against a hospital

SNB – Paul Murphy, allegations over Jobpath and private companies

RCW – We have also asked about this, many questions to be answered

SNB – DHR proves all politics is local

JW – nobody surprised he asked the question, he was probably expecting a sarcastic reply

FPP comment

Again I found the pre-and post-game panels to be inadequate.  Less hacks, more politicians for debate please.  That said, Senator Conway-Walsh putting Sinn Féin’s positions on the Eighth Amendment and the northern government were interesting.

When it came to the main event, based on the information presented, I actually thought the Taoiseach won the exchange with Martin over those patches.  The FF leader led with a very emotive use of his opening question, and seems to have been ably teed up by the Joe Duffy show for the past week – my mother in law knew all about these patches at the weekend.  Varadkar’s logical reply stopped him in his tracks to an extent, although when it comes to ‘courting the grey vote’, which Martin was clearly doing, then it’s very possible he may have had some success.

On the hospital case, much like the Taoiseach I didn’t see the RTE show, though gain it’s interesting to see how our national broadcaster is again involved in the framing of a question.  It certainly sounds like a terrible mistake but as Louise O’Reilly was grilling the Taoiseach I wasn’t sure if this was the right forum for such questioning as it was easy for Varadkar to deflect.  Of course at this stage I didn’t know about Deputy Healy-Rae’s line of questioning….

The highlight was of course the exchange with Paul Murphy.  The tone was combative from the moment he opened his mouth yet while LV is always quick with a jibe at the left, Murphy was absolutely right in pointing out that for all the smart comments there was no actual answer to his specific question about Jobpath.

As for Danny Healy Rae, well, this was parish pump politics at it’s ‘best’.  As a TD he’s entitled to use his time as he saw fit, and his choice was to be prioritise being seen asking a question regardless of whether or not an answer was to be forthcoming.  He was even sure to compare the needs of Kilcumin to those of ‘D4’ and I’m sure that will look very good to his constituents on his Facebook page.

In summary, this was my third time reviewing the Leaders’ Questions for FPP and my original hypothesis, that this is something the whole country should be watching every week, has not changed a bit.  JLP

#IANWAE

 

Notes from Dáil Leaders’ Questions – Wed Jan 31, 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 para-phrasing of course…

Pre-game

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

Leaders’ questions

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 – ??????????

Post game

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.

FPP comment

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

#IANWAE