Those of us interested in Irish politics pride ourselves on reading what the Irish Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and Sunday Business Post have to report each weekend in the area of politics.
We drag ourselves from our beds every Sunday at 12pm to get our weekly hit of RTE’s The Week in Politics. That’s the life of a young Irish politics fan.
However with the General Election less than three months away, I decided to jump down into the pit of Irish politics. On a personal trip to Dublin last week, I was sitting in Starbucks at 11am thinking what a waste of a journey it would be to just go home again after an hour or two.
Through Facebook and a few messages to a TD later, I was on a list of visitors to the Dáil visitors gallery for the debate on employment equality legislation that evening.
The debate on the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 began with a 20-30 minute speech from Social Democrats TD, Róisín Shortall, in which she proposed amendments and listed and detailed the many failings of the legislation as it stood.
Next up to the mic was Socialist Party TD, Ruth Coppinger. She also proposed amendments and blasted the bill for its continued allowance for discrimination in schools against atheists, non-catholics and non-catholic children.
Coppinger wanted to see the amendments at least voted on before the 9pm guillotining of the debate so she took her seat and passed over to her Anti Austerity Alliance colleague, Paul Murphy.
He continued where Shortall and Coppinger had left off and on it went until the “far left” climbed off the soapbox to allow the Labour Party’s Eric Byrne his say on the legislation.
“I welcome the legislation. Years ago some members made the mistake of empowering the Roman Catholic Church to discriminate against LGBT teachers,” Byrne began – a powerful start but one presumably set to lead to a long speech that would bring the debate up close to the 9pm beheading.
Three, two, one, and just as anyone familiar with Irish politics would have predicted, digs at the opposition began. “I take a slightly different position from most of the previous speakers, which is not anti-Catholic.”
Coppinger, looking puzzled, leaned in to her mic and asked: “To which amendment does this refer? This seems like an attempt to run down the clock and prevent us from calling a division on the amendment.”
Byrne came back with: “If there were fewer objections, I could say a great deal more and I have no intention of ceding to this bullying tactic.”
Before the former secondary school teacher could finish her response to Byrne, he looked at the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and returned with: “Unlike the Trotskyists here on my left, I speak from personal experience of having grown up in this society and having been party to a mixed marriage.” Shots fired and shade thrown.
As Byrne continued his speech Shortall rushed up and down the steps of the chamber, stopping for short times at each TD’s station. Murphy and Coppinger first – they, along with Róisín appeared the main players. Then over to Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly and finalising in a grand coalition of Boyd Barrett, Shortall and Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien. At one point a Dáil usher was sent up to the opposition coalition and their meeting wrapped up and all dispersed again, Róisín seemingly keeping the title of ringleader.
Byrne eventually took his seat again and the next five speakers – O’Brien, Catherine Murphy, Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins and Clare Daly – all gave a line or two each and that was all.
Presumably Shortall, with the help of the socialists, had formed an agreement between most of the opposition TDs present not to talk for long and to allow at least one of their amendments to go to a vote.
At one stage during the debate Labour’s Ciara Conway entered the chamber and, accompanied by a phone charger, began searching Government benches for an outlet to plug in her phone. Alas, no outlet could be found and she was left to sit and listen to the debate.
Former Labour Party TD, Eamonn Maloney, still seated with his former party colleagues Byrne and Conway gave his input and it was back then to opposition benches and to Fianna Fáil, who had by the sounds of it not signed up to Róisín’s deal with the other TDs.
Finally, with ten minutes to guillotine time, Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin stood up and began his story on the history of the legislation. In broke Coppinger demanding that discussion be focused on the amendments rather than the bill itself.
A shouting match then broke out between Ciara and Ruth, while Aodhán stood on the other side of the room trying to continue his speech with Catherine Byrne, as Leas-Cheann Comhairle, attempting to get silence in the chamber.
The interruptions continued with Shortall standing up and demanding to make a point. A shinner, independents and another SocDem jumped in. And then it was all over and off they went to vote. One opposition amendment voted on and defeated. And in strolled the others – Ministers, opposition and backbench Government TD’s.
What’s to be said of my Dáil visit last Wednesday? It was frustrating. The practice of guillotining debates, the interruptions and petty digs: all a horrendous reflection on our political landscape. Worse still was that the vast majority of TDs only returned to the Dáil chamber after voting against an amendment they had not even witnessed the debate on.
All in all poor form, especially considering the fact that the long-awaited anti-discrimination legislation will only really apply to Catholics. If you’re gay and catholic and a primary school teacher you can no longer be fired on the basis of simply being gay. If you’re an atheist and gay and a primary school teacher you can still be fired, not for being gay but for solely being an atheist. How’s that for equality?