Miriam Lord: Bertie Ahern is back. What could possibly go wrong?

The Return of Bartholomew offers a laugh to downbeat Dáil grinding its way through immigration issue

The Bertiesaurus has risen . . .

Oh, but we all needed some cheering up.

A downbeat Dáil slowly ground its way through business on the first of a two-day sitting.

The Taoiseach announced he was leaving for Brussels later in the afternoon, sounding like a man marking time until he could make good his escape.


Opposition leaders were not at their combative best.

There were questions about the loathsome activities of increasingly more visible and vocal far-right racist organisations protesting over the presence of refugees and migrants in communities around the country.

Mick Barry of People Before Profit told the Taoiseach that his Government, through its handling of the housing crisis, must bear some responsibility for handing organised racists their “number one gift” which they have used to spread their vile message. He said the leader of the National Party, the biggest far right group here, had attended meetings of European neo-Nazi groups.

When people compare the effort made to house Ukrainian refugees to the State’s “lack of effort and urgency” housing victims of the accommodation crisis “they feel aggrieved and the door opens up for the racist messaging of the far right”, he said.

But Leo Varadkar, while not doubting the Cork North Central TD’s sincere opposition to these groups, urged him to consider his words and guard against unwittingly giving these people any chance to justify their divisive actions.

“Racists and the far right will blame whatever problem the country is facing on migrants. That’s the way it works. That’s the way they think.

“So if we have a housing crisis, it will be: ‘the foreigners are taking our homes’. If we have an unemployment crisis, it will be: ‘the foreigners are taking our jobs’. If we have high levels of crime, they’ll blame the foreigners for those. If there is violence against women – one of the oldest tropes in the book – they will blame that on migrants and people who have come here from overseas, particularly those who are brown or black.

“We shouldn’t play into those arguments and I think, inadvertently you are actually doing that.”

Varadkar spoke with passion.

“Deputy, all I will say is this. None of us in this House want to see the issue of race or the issue of migration become centre stage in our politics. Most of all, somebody like me, given my colour and my family background and the fact that I am biracial.”

He “absolutely” accepted Barry’s bona fides and simply wanted to ask him “not to play their game inadvertently”.

The Taoiseach responded in the same way to Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who also addressed growing racist sentiment in Ireland which is “incredibly concerning and needs to be addressed urgently” while rejecting his assertion that failed Government policies on housing and healthcare are “leading to a rise in the alt right”.

Once again he counselled against inadvertently making excuses for racists. “No matter what problem a country faces, and every country has some problem, the far right will blame that problem on the other, on the brown man or the brown woman.”

Thomas then ruminated on emigration and how it is a huge part of Irish history and identity.

“To ignore this aspect of ourselves is to ignore what it means to be Irish.”

He spoke of all those people who emigrated during the Famine and how many of them were badly treated when they left these shores. When Irish people shun immigrants today “we turn our backs on our ancestors as well.”

The Donegal TD recalled how his parents emigrated to England in the 1960s and how he went to find work and a better quality of life there in the 1980s. A recent survey showed that 70 per cent of young people in Ireland are considering moving abroad.

“How is it that we have become so hypocritical?”

Varadkar agreed with him.

“Most of our families are formed by migration. My father came here from India. My mother is from Ireland but they met when they worked in the NHS in England. My sister lives in London. And every story of every Irish family is one of migration of some form or another. So many of my relatives live in the US. And we understand migration better than most. And we understand that, by and large, migration has been good for Ireland.”

North and South: We answer listener questions on reunification

Listen | 52:14

It was difficult to find any good new news from any of the TDs who turned up for the session.

Fine Gael backbencher, Alan Farrell, made an effort.

Last month was the best January on record for wind, he declared, really putting it up to the members of Dáil Éireann as February gets into its stride.

Dáil wind has absolute privilege. But the offshore variety needs help to harness its gusts, which is why Alan was anxious to know the state of play with MARA, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority.

His constituency colleague in Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien, was so keen to answer he was up on his feet and rearing to go before the Taoiseach could begin his reply.

“Oh, I might ask Minister O’Brien to answer on MARA,” murmured Varadkar as O’Brien launched forth.

He was so glad to be asked a question on this issue.

“And you’re right. It is a very important authority. It has been established.”

Not only that, but a chairman has been appointed and the board will be in place between this week and next.

Housing is a very tough department and it isn’t every day O’Brien can go into the Dáil and announce he has delivered on a deadline without somebody (often himself) starting a row.

It was almost as if Farrell had teed up this gentle question as a favour for a North County Dublin comrade.

Then finally and thankfully, that much needed good laugh to cheer everyone up arrived out of the blue at teatime.

It was none other than the wonderful news of The Return of Bartholomew.

Yes indeed, De Bert is Back.

A paid up member of Fianna Fáil again after a decade-long hiatus. There is talk that he has his eye on the Áras.

What could possibly go wrong?

All together now, sing up at the back: Happy days are here again ...