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…
Host – Sharon Ni Bheolain
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
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]
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
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