October 20, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: How our TDs squander €25,000 a day

So what Covid restriction will you be most happy to abandon? Masks, many people will say. And I guess that if I had to wear one all day, while working in a surgery or school, I might  agree.
But popping on a mask before going into a shop or onto a train is not a hardship. In some Asian countries masks are routinely worn in public places as a precaution against ordinary colds and flues. I can’t see that happening in Ireland, but if there was some way the restriction could be organised, it would have my support.

What I would particularly like to see ended are group meetings held on Zoom and the like. By the same token,  I will be delighted when television and radio stations abandon the practice of remote interviewing.

I am tired of questions that never get answered by politicians posing in front of pretentiously stocked bookcases.
Has anyone thought of producing fake covers to turn a collection of bestsellers into a display of intellectual strength?

Maybe they have, and are in business already, converting chick lit into War and Peace and covering soft porn with The Complete Works of John Paul Sartre.

A cover of My Fight for Irish Freedom would come in handy for younger Sinn Féin deputies who have never heard of Dan Breen and the lads and lassies of the left would find it a lot easier to attach a cover of Das Kapital than to struggle through Karl Marx’s tortuous logic.

There is one Covid restriction our politicians are not planning to abandon just yet and it is the most pointless one of all: holding Dáil debates in the Convention Centre.

The centre is still being used, at a cost of €25,000 a day, to enforce social distancing because, apparently, there is not enough room in Leinster House for a Covid-safe debate.

Have you ever visited the Dáil or watched a Dáil debate on television?

Well, I don’t blame you. But the few brave enough to give it a try will be well aware that, with the exception of Budget day and votes of confidence, Dáil debates usually take place  in a near-empty chamber.

Standing Orders insist that at least 20 TDs must be present when  business is conducted in the Dáil … unless it happens to be meeting in the morning. No kidding. TDs aren’t keen on early rising,  so the quorum is 10 for debates before noon.

In general, though, the figure is 20. That’s 20 out of 160. Yet the Ceann Comhairle sometimes has difficulty rounding up the quorum and it is rarely exceeded by more than a handful.

Most Dáil debates could be socially distanced in my house, never mind Leinster House.

This is a particular bugbear of mine. TDs claim they work in their offices during debates and keep an eye on matters on closed circuit screens. Maybe they do. But to me it seems disrespectful, and quite simply wrong,  that affairs of State should be conducted in this way; that a TD, raising a matter of importance to his constituency, should be heard by only a scattering of deputies and a bored-looking minister who reads the reply a civil servant has written.

Then there are the show rows when Mattie McGrath or Richard Boyd Barrett fly into a rage, gesticulating and hyperventilating to a point where you expect steam will soon rise from their ears. There are shouts of assent and dissent in the chamber but when the camera pans out you realise these are coming from a couple of colleagues, on one side, and a few mates of the minister on the opposite rows.

Other than those, Mattie and Richard are playing to an empty house. And to the gallery, of course, although there is no gallery at the Convention Centre.

This sort of playacting breeds cynicism among the electorate in general and young voters in particular. They have sent representatives to Dáil Eireann. They would like to see them there.

So, as we  roll back the restrictions of Covid, there are two things I want. For the sake of the exchequer, TDs should get back to Leinster House. And for the sake of democracy, a new quorum of 40 should be agreed  and enforced. A quarter-full chamber is not a lot to ask.

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