It is International Women’s Day in Kildare Street and a Government TD is taking his life in his hands.
“Don’t the women have lovely busts?”
In fairness, it was a gag waiting to happen. And it did, over and over, but not until after the unveiling ceremony ended and the big wigs had departed. Father Ted’s Lovely Girls competition has a lot to answer for.
The busts in question went on display in the main entrance hall – former presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, immortalised in bronze and joining the gallery of predominantly male worthies commemorated around the halls of Leinster House. The sculptures were commissioned as part of a drive to improve the gender balance of the artworks on view in Oireachtas.
The Dáil set aside two and a half hours to talk about women. One hundred and fifty minutes. No problem filling the time.
Same time next year, guys and gals?
Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns made her maiden IWD speech, rather cynically surmising she will probably be on her feet in the Dáil chamber saying the same thing on the same day next year. Barring a general election in the intervening months or an unlikely palace coup in the Soc Dems, she’s right.
There were some very thoughtful contributions. The ones tinged with anger came mostly from the women, who spoke well, but wearily.
As it was in the middle of a working day, The Irish Times decided not to down a shot of liquor every time a male TD gave a big shout-out to his mammy. This was a wise decision, as they started first thing in the morning and were still at it by teatime.
At times this box-ticking exercise – International Women’s Day noted and duly discussed – sounded like a compilation reel of excited punters seizing the opportunity to say a few words live on the radio after they’d won a weekend away for two in the afternoon quiz.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael Moynihan set the ball rolling at the start of the morning. “I want to wish all women a very happy International Women’s Day and to thank them for everything they do for us and what they do for society in general as well, for their, em, so . . .”
Then the TD for Cork North-West launched into his question about an industrial park in Charleville.
He was followed shortly afterwards by Sinn Féin’s Martin Browne who prefaced his question about staffing levels in Tipperary’s community healthcare organisations with a personal tribute to the ladies. “I want to also wish all the women in the house here and in the complex and, I suppose me own wife at home, Helen, on women’s day and wish everybody the best of luck on it.”
Many of the male speakers seemed to think the Dáil statements were there for them to thank all the women who know them. Mammies, wives, sisters, sisters-in-law, daughters, nieces, grand-daughters, female friends and, most important of all, the great women altogether who work in their offices. First names were put on the record for posterity.
Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe sent best wishes to his wife, mammy, daughter, sisters and “especially Mary and Sonya” who are doing “mighty work” in his office in Clare.
He also dropped some interesting gossip from the Members’ Bar, which is only open to TDs and Senators. Cathal was keen to praise another woman, the Leas Cheann Comhairle, Catherine Connolly. “We’re very proud of the role she has in these Houses and the job that she does, and there is a bit of speculation in the bar some evenings that she might be a candidate next time around for the Áras, but who knows?”
Cork South West Independent Michael Collins wanted to salute the two women “who look after me in every way shape and form in my office”.
He also spoke of the “astonishing” Katie Taylor, who has been unable to set up a big bout in Dublin. “I can’t understand why,” sighed Michael. “If it was a heavyweight man boxing, they would have found a way.” He suggested a very simple solution: move the fight to Cork.
The aforementioned Catherine Connolly spoke of the need for “transformative change”. She said women’s rights are vanishing before our eyes, violence against women has reached crisis levels in Ireland today, and many counties still don’t have something as basic as safe refuges.
We have checked a few of the bookies’ websites and the Galway West independent isn’t figuring in the odds for the Presidential election. Going on Cathal’s intelligence from the Dáil bar, she might be worth an early punt.
Earlier in the day, Mary Lou McDonald went through the Taoiseach for a short-cut over the decision to end the ban on no-fault evictions. She heaped scorn on his explanations.
“Jeeesus, Mary and Joseph,” the Sinn Féin leader drawled, rolling her eyes as the Taoiseach accused her of “trying to create a divisive and false narrative” by framing the rental crisis as a case of landlords versus renters and renters versus landlords.
Noise levels rose and Mary Lou’s colleagues howled in support. Leo Varadkar protested that every time he tries to answer the Sinn Féin leader, he is shouted down.
“There’s no-one shouting you down Leo, relax. Relax,” she murmured, with a smile.
They traded barbs as the atmosphere became increasingly fraught.
“I really need to put on the record that what we see here is a party that really just cannot handle honest democratic debate,” complained the Taoiseach.
Mary Lou bristled at this questioning of her party’s democratic capabilities and pointedly reminded Leo that Sinn Féin got more votes than his party in the last election.
The bickering continued.
“Stoppit. Would ya just stoppit,” she groaned, with a dismissive wave of the hand.
The Taoiseach requested and made a point of order.
“That’s a point of being moronic,” came the acid repost.
It was a relief to get back to some decent name-calling later in the afternoon when the Taoiseach took People Before Profit (PBP) to task over the party’s recent pamphlet warning that a rich right-wing elite will engineer a coup if the left ever gets into power.
Leo patronisingly remarked that he thinks the PBP people are passionate and interesting and he likes to listen to them in the Dáil. “But are you sure you’re not a bit bonkers?”
He asked Richard Boyd-Barrett if they really believe there will be a conspiracy to overthrow the Government?
His colleague Bríd Smith delivered a very succinct reply: “I would rather be bonkers than a Tory like you.”