For all its faults, the Dáil is one of the most potent symbols of our sovereignty. I’m visiting it on Budget Day. I’ve never been here before; so, like Bosco going through the magic door, I’m about to see what’s on the other side.
As I arrive, a number of protesters are outside banging pots and pans. They’d got the idea from Argentina where a revolution started in similar circumstances ten years ago. Argentina is a lot warmer however. On Kildare Street, several people seem to be frozen to their pots.
Every Dáil session begins with the offical prayer. This is where the legislators ask God to inspire them in their actions and decisions. This could leave God vulnerable to an inquiry. There have already been grumblings as to why God let bad things happen during the bust. However God is maintaining he has always stated that humans have free will and should self-regulate. If they wanted to continue to make laws that eroded the tax base and fuelled a lopsided boom, then he was going to do nothing about it.
The Budget Speech is the main event but first there is a session of Leader’s Questions. If the Budget is the All-Ireland Final, this week’s Leader’s Questions is very much the Minor match – attendance is much lower but there’s less fighting. Even though there’s an hour set aside for it, very few questions are actually asked or answered. This is because it typically takes Enda Kenny and Eamonn Gilmore ten minutes each to ask a question. This style of debate would never do in my house. We’d be there all night. Consider the fraught question of waste disposal:
[Deputy Wife] – Can I ask Deputy Husband why he persists in not taking out the bins? His continual refusal to discharge his duty and respond to requests to do so is symptomatic of all that is wrong with his party’s moribund and morally corrupt policies. I was intrigued to hear him mention earlier in this house how much of a supporter he is of recycling. If that is indeed the case, can he not now put his money where his mouth is and bring out the recyclables to the Green Bin. It is the least courtesy that this house and this country deserve.
The key to being a Taoiseach is first to completely ignore the question, then use the opportunity to score points before quoting an independent report.
[Deputy Husband] – I note with interest how the deputy on the opposite side of the house seems to have acquired a new interest in the whole area of bin removal. Many of us here with long memories recall that in her previous accommodation, the green bin frequently contained banana skins and teabags. Now, to address the matter of the substantive question at hand, posed to me by Deputy Wife, let me point to various independent OECD and IMF surveys which indicate….
After a whopping two questions, it’s half-three and the Ceann Comhairle calls for what sounds like a Sos before the next debate. Sos – the word itself is reassuring. In Dripsey Primary School Sos Beag was the Little Break where you had one of your sandwiches and Sos Mór was Big Break where you had the rest of your lunch and tore the knee of your school trousers playing football. Sos is rather more demure in the Dáil. As far as I can see there are no TDs racing around shouting “Red Rover!”
As the Sos ends, the house has filled. Familiar where-are-they-now figures can be seen. Bertie comes in, apparently none the worse for his confinement in a cupboard. He’s all smiles as he takes his seat among a sea of red-faced men in suits and meaty handshakes. It’s standing room only in the public gallery too. As everyone here is a guest of a politician, the gallery looks a lot like an audience for an episode of the old Questions And Answers programme, without the shouty lefties.
The Ceann Comhairle rings his little bell and announces the start of the budget speech. In a coordinated scurry, ushers come in with copies of the budget and hand them around the chamber. As Brian Lenihan starts to speak, TDs are flicking through the pages, searching for the bad news. It looks like the start of Leaving Cert English Paper 2 as people check whether their high-risk study strategy has paid off. “Please be Yeats, Please be Yeats, [AH.. SHITE!] Who is this Thomas Kinsella anyway?”
It’s now about thirty minutes into the speech. The cosiness of the room, the gentle rhythm of expanding taxbands and cuts is soporific and I nod off briefly. I have a small dream where I’m playing in goal and have to save a penalty. This causes me to dive to the left in my seat, much to the consternation of the Ógra Fianna Fáiller next to me.
And then it’s over. As the Minister takes his seat, there’s clapping in the chamber and in the gallery though I don’t join in. I find it hard to applaud losing a couple of hundred euro a month. It would be like cheering as I pay my car insurance.
Michael Noonan is on his feet dissecting the budget in small little jabs – as if he’s wielding a pen-knife. There are lots of interruptions as he speaks. The humour rating is roughly at the level of “takes one to know one” and “Your mother knows all about it.”
Paul Gogarty – you may remember him from such asterisks as “F**k You, Deputy Stagg, F**k You” – is chipping in with such gems as “Tell that to the Labour Party.” He’s swiftly put in his place by Alan Shatter who says “Deputy Gogarty should stick to his computer games” Quite. If I knew the reference, I’m sure it would be hilarious.
I’d love to stay for more but I’ve a gig to do and slippery roads to contend with– it’s time to leave.
My trip through the magic door is over. Now it’s time to make and do.