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

 

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It’s not about Jobstown, Paul Murphy nor Joan Burton. It’s about what side you’re on.

The date was September 17, 2016.  I got the Luas with my wife and our two young children to Heuston Station, which was one of the meeting places for the latest Right2Water march.  We all set off towards the centre of town, and there were thousands gathered in just our section and the various groups from around the city were to converge at St Stephens Green.  

As we walked along the quays, I’d say it was probably around Ormond Quay, a man walked up to my wife as she pushed the buggy carrying our then 17-month old daughter and stuck a microphone in her face.  Behind him was a cameraman with his device pointing at her.

“So why are you marching today?”

“I don’t want to talk.”

“But I thought you cared about water changes?  Why are you marching then if you don’t want to talk about it?”

To be clear, I am paraphrasing the man, but that is definitely the gist of the exchange.

Needless say I wanted to throw him into the Liffey.  On a more sensible level, I wanted to give him a piece of my mind.  My wife does not feel comfortable in those situations.  And why should she.  All she wanted to do to lend her support for something she believed in was march, and it is as much her right not to talk as it is to talk.

How dare you confront a peaceful protester in this manner?  Would you not at least ask permission for the interview first?  Identify yourself and the broadcaster or publication for whom you are reporting first?  This is what I wanted to say to the man.  But I knew it wouldn’t come out that way so I took her hand and led her away from him.

I don’t want to give the impression that I go to these marches all the time.  That’s not because I’d be ashamed if I did, in fact it’s more to the contrary…I’m ashamed that I had somehow managed to be elsewhere each and every time such activism was going on, no matter how much I believed in a particular cause.  My “excuse” for the past year or so has been that I have been more interested in the US Presidential campaign plus my online time has been taken up by running a monetised sports blog.

None of that really matters, though.  You either show up for events like this or you don’t.  And on this day I honestly thought showing up was enough.  I should have been more prepared for a moment like this one.  I should have known to confront this asshole with a clear head and using accurate language to give him a proper soundbite and I should have also known to use my phone to record my own words as well.

Anyway, here’s my point that relates that incident above to this article.  

Do you believe my recollection of what happened?  Or do you think I’m exaggerating the reporter’s aggressiveness and/or lack of professionalism for the sake of the cause I was marching for?  Your honest answer to that question is very important when it comes to contemporary Irish politics.

Something else happened to me on the day of that protest.  As we waited at Heuston Station for the march to start, I was handed a placard.  I looked at it. It read “Jobstown Not Guilty”.  I handed it back to the man.

The reason I wouldn’t take it was not that I was opposed to the Jobstown cause, rather that on this particular day, while I did know about the incident in question involving then-Tánaiste Joan Burton, I was unaware of the specifics of the pending legal case, and also the organisation to back the defendants.  

Basically I didn’t want to be going around with my children holding a placard for a cause I knew little about.  And truth be told, in the short amount of time between receiving the placard and handing it back, I didn’t have time to check whether or not it was somehow connected to Sinn Féin, which was my greatest fear.

Since then of course, I have gotten to know more and more about the #JobstownNotGuilty cause.  Again because of other distractions, I never managed to get too involved in the activism, but you can be sure I was delighted when the defendants were found not guilty at the end of June.

Was the delight down to my thoughts on the actual events which transpired on that fateful day in Jobstown in November 2014?  Of course not.  I wasn’t there.  My delight stems from the fact that this was way, way more than a court case.  This was actually the coal face of modern Irish society.  People’s approach to the topic could not illustrate more where they stand with regard to the “haves vs have-nots” nature of public opinion these days.

And am I a fan of Paul Murphy?  I can’t answer.  I don’t know the guy personally.  But I do know that he was elected by the people of Dublin South-West on a ticket which couldn’t more clearly define his mandate if it tried : “Anti Austerity Alliance”.

I have certainly read multiple attempts to smear him though.   Like this op-ed by Philip Ryan in the Irish Independent over the weekend.

Paul Murphy really fancies himself as Ireland’s modern day Nelson Mandela with a megaphone

Here’s a thought…instead of slagging the man off for his megaphone, why not ask yourself why he feels the need to use it?  Or better still…give him the megaphone YOU’RE using.  Let HIM write a piece in the Indo and let your readers form their own opinion?  

No – it’s much easier to hide behind your column and slag the man off along with half-truths and tenuous associations.

And while we’re on that subject…a few points.  The pro-establishment media are very concerned with the fact that a water balloon was thrown.  So much so, they make it sound like it was a Molotov cocktail.  If that’s the extent of the violence that took place, then that’s surely enough to question the general narrative for starters.

They are also very concerned with the fact that Joan Burton is a woman.  Why?  She was the Tánaiste at the time.  It shouldn’t matter a jot what gender she is.  There was nowhere near this level of hysteria when President Higgins had a similar in-car experience a couple of months later, although the mainstream coverage was still very much anti-protester.

And as for “kidnapping”, well that one’s easy.  The court has decided it wasn’t.  Therefore it wasn’t.

But we had the ultimate side-taking just recently in the Dáil by our new Taoiseach.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fnewstalkfm%2Fvideos%2F10156467130447907%2F&show_text=1&width=560

Asked by Deputy Murphy if there would be a public inquiry into false statements made by gardaí throughout the course of the trial, Varadkar replied thus…

Deputy, you had a fair trial…

…so we’d best leave it at that.”  Had that been the Taoiseach’s point, even it it meant brushing Murphy off on the Garda thing, I would have understood to an extent.   Remember…“Taoiseach” is supposed to mean “leader”, and one every bit as much of the people who voted for Murphy as those who voted for Fine Gael.

But he couldn’t resist going on…

…you were acquitted, but that doesn’t mean that your behaviour was right.  And it may well be the case that you weren’t engaged in kidnapping, but it was thuggery.

…and his good buddies at BlueshirtFM, aka Newstalk, were on hand to provide plenty of “huzzah!” for his clearly biased opinion.  No fear of asking a Solidarity representative on to provide some kind of balance.

The Jobstown trial and all the pro-establishment opinion surrounding it is not about what took place that day.  It was about framing the narrative of Irish political discourse.  The country was brought to its knees by the actions of the government, the banking sector and the construction sector and one by one the public are expected to pick up the tab.

Whatever you may think about Paul Murphy, he is merely the latest focal point for the establishment to attack through various means.  If it wasn’t him it would be someone like Brendan Ogle.   Or Mick Wallace.  Or Ruth Coppinger.  Or Clare Daly.  The way this country is set up right now, it’s remarkably easy for those either wishing to suck up to the establishment or afraid to appear “too left” to play the man (or woman!!!) instead of the ball.

And what is the ball?  It’s the true political discussion, one that is not being had anywhere it matters.  It’s not about Fianna Fáil vs Fine Gael.  It’s not even about “haves” vs “have nots”, at least not precisely.

It’s about three distinct groups….those who speak for the “haves”, those who speak for the “have nots” and the most important of all, those burying their heads in the sand, making countless excuses for not getting involved.  Much like I tend to do.  At least I find the odd hour or two to voice my opinion here, though that of course is nowhere near enough.  JLP

Follow the Jobstown Not Guilty Facebook page here

#IANWAE

A rhetorical question for Sinn Féin as the UK electorate decides

This question is of course completely rhetorical – I am but a humble individual who is relatively new to political blogging so my chances of getting an answer are about the same as Jeremy Corbyn’s of winning an overall majority, but I’d still like to put it “out there” nonetheless….

Dear Sinn Féin,

If your party could choose one of these scenarios for the island of Ireland today, would you go for…

(1) A united Ireland with a government led by an Irish ideological equivalent of Theresa May, or

(2) A continuation of the Good Friday Agreement “status quo” but with a Republic of Ireland government led by an Irish ideological equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn?

Yours sincerely,

Jeff Pagano

#IANWAE