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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Irish Independent’s framing of poll suggests ‘Brexitisation’ of #RepealThe8th debate

THE ISSUE

Many feel that one of the factors that contributed to both the Brexit and Trump victories  in 2016 was the mainstream media’s attempts to appear ‘neutral’ [for sales reasons every bit as much as ones involving ‘fairness’] which often led to over-compensating in their coverage of the perceived ‘losing side’ ahead of election day.

THE MEDIA

Article by Philip Ryan in Irish Independent on February 18, 2018

Poll shows strong support in favour of abortion referendum – but ’12 week’ proposal splits public

A total of 40pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks was ‘about right’, while 8pc said it ‘did not go far enough’, a combined 48pc in favour.

However, 33pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks ‘went too far’ and a further 19pc were undecided – a combined 52pc against or unsure.

THE COMMENT

The headline reads ’12-week proposal splits public’.  Actually, any poll result that isn’t 100% in favour of one side can be called ‘split’.  So what is Philip Ryan of the Indo trying to do here?

Well, let’s look at the numbers being presented, starting with the pollsters themselves.  The article calls it a ‘Kantar Millward Brown poll’ which suggests a degree of, pardon the pun, ‘independence’ about the source, though if you actually go to the firm’s website you’ll see that pretty much all of their polls are done for the Indo.

But here is where I want to be absolutely clear…I am not suggesting that the Irish Independent is somehow secretly working on behalf of one side of the abortion debate.  This is something different, yet it is potentially just as harmful to the #RepealThe8th movement.

The article begins by pointing out that as many as 63% of respondents are in favour of Eighth Amendment Repeal.   It then adds that ‘A total of 24pc are opposed and 13pc do not know or offer no opinion.’  That shows a clear separation between the different viewpoints, in favour, against and no opinion…three distinct camps.

But the reporting starts to get a little, shall we say, ‘murky’ when we get to the part about the proposed ’12 week’ provision.  Remember…this post is not meant to debate that issue itself, rather the Indo’s reporting of a poll on it.

As you can see from our highlighted quote above, when it comes to these particular figures, the author has chosen to throw the ‘undecided’ percentage in with those who feel that 12 weeks is ‘too far’.  Why is that?  Surely the fact that they haven’t stated an opinion means the number should be kept separate, just as it was with the overall figures?

The answer is simple, at least in my opinion.

It’s not so much that the Indo wants you to vote a particular way in the referendum…it just wants to be able to write a headline that attracts attention from both sides.  So by ‘cooking the numbers’ to suggest there’s a category where the ‘No’ camp is actually winning, they are effectively ‘throwing them a bone’.

Many use the term ‘clickbait’ for such manipulation in the framing of a headline, but I’m not wild about that as it suggests that it only happens online.  I’d rather call it ‘lookbait’ as not only has it always featured in the print media [mostly tabloids though not exclusively], but also it is essentially uses the same principle employed by advertisers.  That scantily-clad woman holding the beer on the billboard isn’t there because if you buy the product you’ll get to meet her, yet they certainly don’t mind you thinking you will, even if it’s for a split second.

But to return to the #RepealThe8th movement, it’s very important that they remain mindful of this type of skewed media coverage and highlight it whenever they can, otherwise that 63-24 gap could get a lot closer between now and the referendum itself.  JLP

#IANWAE

Mueller investigation confirms Russian interference…Trump’s only concern is himself

THE ISSUE

Whether or not Donald Trump personally colluded with the Russian government in their interference with the 2016 US Presidential election, the fact that he has done nothing to stop them doing it again since arriving in the White House is greatly worrying to say the least.

THE MEDIA

Article by Jan Wolf in Reuters on Friday, February 16, 2018

Russian Indictments Could Set Stage For More Mueller Charges

“While they went to great pains to say they are not indicting any Americans today, if I was an American and I did cooperate with Russians I would be extremely frightened today,” said former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter.

The White House took a different view, issuing a statement saying that Trump had been briefed on the matter and was “glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

THE COMMENT

Rod Rosenstein looked so scared making his announcement you’d swear Trump was standing right in front of him.  I suppose you have to hand it to the President for at least being that intimidating.

Knowing full well his boss wants to fire him, Rosenstein had the unenviable task of explaining the latest move by the Mueller investigation to the media, namely that Russian citizens were being indicted for operating things such as ‘troll farms’ to sway public opinion.

When I was growing up I seem to recall Russia as being an enemy of the USA.  I’m not saying I was ever happy about that state of affairs, but one thing I know for sure is that it was the Republican Party pushing that line more than any other.

Now we have concrete evidence that they [and by they we can only assume the orders came from the very top] have been meddling in the democratic processes of supposedly ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’, we have to assume that the priority of the US government is to punish them and make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Of course not.  All Trump cares about is himself.  Is that just my opinion or do I have proof?  What say we examine his first tweet since the announcement of the Russian indictments…

Great, Mr President – so it looks like you’re in the clear [even though the announcement proves nothing of the sort].  Glad to see you have your priorities straight.  Who needs to worry about the Russians having an ‘anti-US campaign’ anyway?  Not the President, that’s for sure.  No doubt if challenged you’ll point to the fact that Obama did nothing either, even though he did and at the time you said it was bullshit.

As always, we can only scratch our heads as we try to figure out the mental capacity of, not the President himself, but the citizens of Utrumpia who swallow his every word hook, line and stinker.  That’s not a typo.  JLP

#IANWAE

Rachel Maddow makes a good case for being the most smug about the epic fail that is the Nunes meh-mo

THE ISSUE

In a desperate attempt to help his overlord president thwart the Robert Mueller investigation, Congressman Devin Nunes cherry-picked classified intelligence information and spun it into the form of a memo which, after whipping up a frenzy of curiosity for weeks, he sent to Trump who authorised it for public release on Friday.   The reaction everywhere other than Fox News has been underwhelming to say the least.

THE MEDIA

YouTube clip by The Rachel Maddow Show on Friday, February 2, 2018

This is what all the hype was about? I hyped that I’d got Donald Trump’s tax returns …for one hour before I actually released…what actually were Donald Trump’s tax returns and for a year now people were telling me that was unconscionable hype”

THE COMMENT

Over in Utrumpia, where this memo is being paraded around like it’s The Ten Commandments, it doesn’t matter what the actual words on the page are.  

The type of person this sideshow was aimed at is never going to actually read the memo.  This White House is counting on that, and it always does, which brings us to the underlying problem in all of this – how do you tell people they’re being manipulated when the people manipulating them have them convinced that YOU’RE their enemy?

Being a smug member of the so-called liberal elite is something Rachel Maddow does better than most – it doesn’t bother me personally but I know her presentation style is way too ‘smart’ for Utrumpia natives.  That said, she did take a lot of flak for the way she hyped the tax returns she received and I was one of the few who stuck up for her at the time.   She is definitely justified in bringing it up.

She then goes on to spell out not only how little is in the meh-mo that actually helps Trump, but also how some of it works against him.  Pity Utrumpians won’t be watching, however.

Best quote I have seen about all of this so far has come from Senator John McCain…

“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

We’ll see what Robert Mueller has to say about it all.  JLP

#IANWAE

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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

Impressive words and actions from Varadkar on #RepealThe8th announcement but how media will frame the debate remains to be seen

THE ISSUE

After much urging to announce both date and format regarding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Leo Varadkar’s government has finally done so.

THE MEDIA

Article by Rónán Duffy in The Journal on January 30, 2018

‘We’re asking people to trust women’: Repeal referendum to be held before the end of May

“We know that thousands of Irish women, women from every single county in Ireland, travel abroad for abortions every year. We know that women obtain abortion pills through the post to end their pregnancies without any medical support or counselling or supervision. So we already have abortion in Ireland, but it’s unsafe, unregulated and unlawful. In my opinion we cannot continue to export our problems and import our solutions,”

THE COMMENT

After much waiting, we have finally heard from the Irish Government on the issue of the Eighth Amendment, and for the most part it was the news we wanted to hear.  The referendum is to be held at the end of May, and for the most part, the vote is to be on a straight repeal.

It is natural for Pro-Choice campaigners to remain sceptical, however.

First, I have questions on this intervention by the Attorney General on the need to have wording left in the Constitution which allows the Oireachtas to legislate.  Why wasn’t this information given to both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee?  Or, if it was, then why are we choosing to ignore their findings?

And second, this quote from Duffy’s article concerns me…

Speaking at Government Buildings this evening about his own views on the referendum, Varadkar said that he would be campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Given that Micheal Martin of Fianna Fail has managed to contort his own position into something similar to the Taoiseach of late, I sincerely hope that the Irish mainstream media does not consider the two ‘Civil War party’ leaders to be the foremost spokespeople of the Yes campaign between now and the referendum.

They are both leaders of political organisations that have been given free votes to their parliamentarians so we would hope that parties with stated positions on Repeal, as well as other organisations, will be given sufficient time to present their case when the debate takes place in the public domain.

All of that remains to be seen, but for now, this can only be seen as a positive step.  JLP

#IANWAE