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Leo takes the shine off the Shinners’ RTÉ scorcher

Photogenic Deputy Gould pushes for TV licence to be scrapped as part of SF’s latest policy scorcher

Thomas Gould bridled.

“That’s an awful thing to say to me!” he yowled, stung by the Taoiseach’s assessment of lovely photos of himself and Pearse Doherty draped across the back page of Sinn Féin’s latest super-soaraway policy scorcher.

Well, maybe not draped. Or splashed, even. The pair of them were merely positioned side by side – head and torso shots, fully suited and exceedingly primped and coiffed.

Just two smiley lads on the happy day of their graduation from election-poster school. They’ll look lovely on the lamp-posts.


This minor contretemps happened after Leaders’ Questions when Gould, the Sinn Féin deputy for Cork North Central, arrived in to tee up his party’s forthcoming motion on abolishing the television licence and rehabilitating RTÉ.

The Shinners going big on the obscure topic of Raidió Teilifís Éireann? And why not? A party can’t live on populism alone.

It had been anticipated that Mary Lou McDonald might major on Montrose for her Tuesday joust with the Taoiseach, but news of the latest cost overrun at the national children’s cash-magnet could not be ignored.

The newest running total for the cost of the new NCH, which has been under construction longer than anyone can remember, has increased by half a billion euro.

Leo Varadkar had to listen to the Sinn Féin leader outline the hair-raising timeline around the construction of this medical money pit in Dublin 8. It was hard to argue with what she said.

Here’s the gist: “Long-running debacle… rumbles on… staggering cost… €2.2 billion… frankly unbelievable... outrageous… no confidence this will be the final cost… uncertainty… completion date… hands-off approach… costs spiralling and out-of-control… little wonder… shifting timelines… complete lack of confidence in delivery.”

She even mentioned asteroids (apparently the Taoiseach mentioned them years ago when promising the hospital would definitely be finished by 2020) but they are probably more of a concern for the adjacent adult facility.

Finishing on “Debacle… Government… asleep at the wheel… fiasco.”

Mary Lou, in training already for her St Patrick’s week trip to Washington and dressed from head to toe in green, wanted some definitive answers to some simple questions.

When will the children’s hospital be finished, when will it open, when will it be fully operational and will any more money above and beyond the €2.2 billion be spent?

Taoiseach Varadkar sounded very sure about the figures this time.

The hospital will open later this year. October was the “target” month, he said. And it will start receiving patients in 2025 – which gives a nice 12-month window to be right.

And absolutely, totally, utterly, categorically and honest-to-God-swear that not one single cent more than the maximum of €2.2 billion will be spent on the project, so it won’t.

“That will happen next year.”

What a relief to know this will definitely happen.

But back to the photogenic Deputy Gould and his lens-loving model sidekick, Pearse.

Standing in for his leader at Questions on Promised Legislation, Thomas told the Taoiseach the time had come to scrap the TV licence following the financial scandals at RTÉ and the mass refusal of people to pay for their licences.

Public support for the licence has collapsed and the idea of chasing people through the courts for the money “is frankly absurd”.

Sinn Féin wants to replace the levy with exchequer funding which will cover the cost of public service broadcasting.

Presumably this would also cover the cost of payouts from High Court actions launched against the State broadcaster by the public, including Sinn Féin politicians. Some have already been properly vindicated – Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire come to mind.

Mary Lou McDonald’s action against RTÉ is proceeding through the High Court.

The Taoiseach agreed that the TV licence “is outmoded”. But he encouraged the public “to comply with the law and continue to pay it”.

And he doesn’t think much of Sinn Féin’s effort to fund public broadcasting. He held up a copy of the document and flicked through it.

“I have to say, Deputy, I had a chance to read your policy and, yeah, it’s…”

He paused. Something had caught his eye.

“Nice picture of you and Pearse here and it’s, like, it’s pretty comical. I’m sorry to say that, but it is.”

Ah here, Leo. Where’s your manners?

Comical Tommy was taken aback.

“That’s an awful thing to say to me,” he pouted.

We procured a copy of the report and, sure enough, Pearse and Tommy are gazing out from the back cover looking all purposeful and powdered and preened with their winsome, don’t-frighten-the-voters smiles.

Pearse is wearing a navy suit with a light-blue shirt and a blue silk tie. His hair is a triumph, jet black with delightful greying around the temples.

And Tommy. Blue suit, white shirt and blue tie. His hair is your classic statesman silver with just a hint of a wave and a little gelled flick at the front. He has playfully accessorised one lapel with a fetching enamel Easter Lily.

Tres distingué. The pair of them. Perhaps image-conscious Leo was jealous.

The more likely explanation is that he was referring to the content of the entire document and not just the enchanting photos of the SF poster boys.

It was really comical because “parts of it are copied and pasted from the Future of Media Commission report” while the proposal to introduce an amnesty for people who refused to pay “is deeply insulting to people who comply with the law and do pay”.

Thomas Gould was not taking this lying down.

“What about the water charges?” he shouted.

“Just think about all those people who collect the stamps or who pay their bills and have done so for years. It’s an insult and a kick in the teeth for them,” added the Taoiseach.

Leo thinks Sinn Féin’s plan is pure daft.

“I think the oddest thing in the policy is the proposal that we continue to pay €12.5 million a year to An Post for not collecting the charge when it’s abolished. I’m all for supporting An Post but giving people €12 million a year to collect a charge that doesn’t exist any more….”

“Post Offices are closing down every month,” interrupted Thomas.

“… really is comical,” concluded Leo.

Giving free money back to post offices. That’s a novel idea for Sinn Féin, right enough.

Still, the Cork City TD got a very good run-out all day in the media and in the Dáil on his party’s motion proposing reform of the television licence fee model.

He is Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on addiction, recovery and wellbeing.

The spokesperson on media is Imelda Munster from Dundalk. She made a big impact at the RTÉ committee hearings last year. She announced in December that she would not be running in the next general election.

The spokesman on arts and culture is Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

Meanwhile, although a number of Opposition TDs criticised the party for moving a brazenly populist motion, politicians from all sides were most grateful to Sinn Féin for tabling their motion on Tuesday night.

They like nothing better than talking about RTÉ.

Better still, it gave them the chance to praise and namecheck their own local radio stations and their own local newspapers, which they did with gusto.

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