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Eyes down for a full house!
And it was.
The Dáil chamber was a bingo player’s dream on Tuesday evening, with a full house for the confidence vote in Eoghan Murphy who is still a long way away from Minister for Full Housing, hence the motion in the first place.
Even the invisible men of the 32nd Dáil were going to attend the late-night division.
Is it yourself, Dara? Is it yourself, Enda?
Balls to the lot of them. That’s what the bingo players outside Leinster House were saying when they gathered to protest against new gaming laws they claim could close down bingo halls and deprive them of the one little bit of enjoyment they get of an evening.
Perish the thought.
“There are no plans to cause any difficulties to bingo players,” stressed the Taoiseach during Questions on Promised Legislation.
Just when Leo thought things couldn’t get any worse, the nanas of Ireland are up in arms, marching on Kildare Street and holding bingo sessions at the gates with the likes of Michael Healy-Rae smarming out to them and calling the balls like the brazen old pro that he is. No wonder the Taoiseach looked a bit shook.
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He has just lost four byelections. His bro Murph is facing a vote of no confidence because of the housing crisis. And Fr Peter McVerry, expressing the thoughts of a nation in a letter to The Irish Times, catches TD Dara Murphy bang to rights for doing a full-time paid job in Europe while sliding into Leinster House just enough times to hit a fob off a keypad and collect the complete panoply of expenses properly due to a full-time salaried TD.
He’s no boy scout, but for Dara Murphy, every lucrative week in the Dáil was Fob-a-Job week.
But he’s leaving now for an even better job in Europe.
And now an embarrassed Taoiseach and his clued-in Ministers and his wily backbench TDs, who would hear the grass grow when it comes to in-house political talk, are pretending they never noticed Air Miles Murphy missing in action. If only they did, they would have demanded the tightening up of the porous expenses regime politicians gifted themselves on purpose years ago.
They only realised they were unaware of Dara’s situation when it hit the headlines last week. In the same way were unaware of the stories in the newspapers last year and the way it was a standing joke on all sides whenever Air Miles Murphy made a rare stopover in the House.
Of course they knew. Many colleagues in the parliamentary party, working hard in the job they were elected to do, were annoyed by double-jobbing Dara’s unusual arrangement. But it was sanctioned from the top and defended by the Taoiseach, who still can’t seem to grasp how a doing a full-time job promoting Fine Gael’s interests in Brussels while still on the taxpayers’ dime is neither a right nor acceptable role for one of his serving TDs.
The Taoiseach reacted to this outrageous liberty on the part of his deputy for Cork North-Central by doing precisely nothing for two years until the outcry. But on Tuesday, he told the House the current expenses regime is “very lax” and the next Dáil should have “a different system when it comes to expenses” and verifying attendance. Word came later from the Minister for Finance that he is already looking into the situation.
And with that, the stable door was banged shut. The horse, galloping in the colours of Air Miles Murphy, already gone and headed for a bonanza bucket of oats in Brussels.
We saw him heading away in the night sky when the Christmas tree lights were officially switched on at teatime. A lovely occasion and very well planned, right down to the laughing reindeer dashing across the sky.
Hey, wait a minute. That’s no reindeer. That’s the horse bolting off to Europe and if Leo Varadkar never hears his name again it’ll be a good day for him and for Fine Gael. Not much hope of that, though. There’ll be hooves on the doorsteps come the general election.
The Oireachtas choir, in great voice as always, was joined at the tree ceremony by the Rathmines Ukulele Group. They were fabulous. The Taoiseach posed for a photograph, holding a ukulele. Could have been worse. At least Dara Murphy wasn’t in the picture. And they could have been holding fiddles.
Everyone searched under the tree, very excited. But Dara wasn’t hiding there.
The party leaders Pat House gathered for the official switch-on by Leas Cheann Comhairle, Pat the Cope Gallagher. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin arrived just in the nick of time. People thought he had decided to abstain from this event as well as the vote of no confidence.
Mary Lou McDonald looked very happy. She started smiling when Mark Ward, Sinn Féin’s newest TD, was welcomed into the Dáil at the start of the day and hadn’t stopped.
The three other TDs – Joe O’Brien (Green), Malcolm Byrne and Pádraig O’Sullivan also made their entrances, their proud families watching on. Their first vote was on the Greyhound Bill, a sign of the exciting and glamorous life now beckoning.
All four were escorted into the chamber by a party colleague. We waited in vain for somebody from Fine Gael to appear at the top of the steps with Dara Murphy on their arm. But it didn’t happen.