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 – 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
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
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
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