Miriam Lord: Leo in combative mood as he dares turkeys to vote for Christmas

Everyone in the Dáil agrees the Taoiseach was probably right about the outcome of Dáil votes - as anxious renters remain in horrible holding patterns

It is far too early to be thinking about Christmas but there was a definite hint of herby stuffing and roast potatoes in the air on Tuesday.

This was no accident.

We can blame the Taoiseach.

He deliberately opened the oven door twice during Leaders’ Questions, sending cautionary wafts of crispy skin across the chamber floor towards Independent TDs and smaller parties with the express intention of scaring the giblets out of them.


While across the way, smiling Sinn Féiners owned the sizzle and dreamed of gravy to come.

On the eve of a confidence motion in his Government, Leo Varadkar’s message to non-SF members of the Opposition was stark: Collapse my Coalition and you will bring down the 33rd Dáil, precipitate a premature general election and, in all likelihood, lose out to a shoo-in Shinner who will scoff your seat with pleasure.

He seemed confident about retaining the confidence of the House, but to be on the safe side he reminded coalition-minded Independents who might be wavering that they could be voting themselves out of a job two years ahead of time if they jump the other way.

It’s an unusual situation to find a taoiseach showcasing the popularity of his main competition and political arch-enemy to help shore up numbers in a ballot on his own government’s popularity.

Full marks to Leo for not going down the obvious route by talking about turkeys voting for Christmas. But he conjured up that exact scenario for Richard Boyd-Barrett when the Dún Laoghaire TD declared that People Before Profit will be supporting the Labour Party’s motion in Wednesday’s confidence vote.

Obviously, Richard didn’t mention Labour by name as he would have burst into flames on the spot and thus been unavailable to register his support which, he told the Dáil, is forthcoming “for many reasons” but particularly because of the “absolutely cruel and heartless decision” to lift the eviction ban.

As he nailed his colours to the mast, RBB berated a cohort of “so-called” Independent deputies “horse-trading with the Government over local issues” unconnected to the housing crisis in exchange for supporting the Government to put people into homelessness.

“They should be ashamed of themselves.”

And ditto for the Greens.

Stop “browbeating” the Independents and leave them to make up their own minds, retorted Leo, keen to talk turkey with Richard. “Be honest” about what will happen if the Government loses the motion of confidence.

The Taoiseach began laying out the appalling vista.

His critics would say it’s not half as appalling as the vista – real or imagined – renters are facing with the removal of the eviction ban this weekend.

“The eviction of thousands of families and individuals,” according to RBB.

“We have one last chance to stop thousands from losing their homes,” said Mary Lou McDonald, referring to her party’s legislation to extend the ban to be tabled later in the day.

But Leo pushed back repeatedly against the big numbers quoted at him. The Sinn Féin leader was trying to “exploit people’s fears and anxieties” by misrepresenting facts and creating the impression that 4,000 notices to quit automatically turns into 4,000 families in emergency accommodation.

Varadkar, in turn, was accused of “scaremongering” for claiming their Bill would make it impossible for people to sell their own property to alleviate a hardship situation or take it back so they or a family member can live in it.

One way or the other, putting down a motion of no confidence is a waste of time, insisted the Taoiseach. Nothing will change if he (Leo) wins and the Dáil falls immediately if he loses and the decision to lift the moratorium will stand.

“So don’t try to pretend that by voting no confidence in the Government tomorrow morning that you’re somehow going to stop the eviction ban from lapsing. In fact, you’ll make it impossible for it to lapse,” he told Boyd-Barrett.

And what will happen next?

There will be an election.

“And deputy, you will have to fight for your seat. We all will, but if these polls are to be believed most of the People Before Profit seats will be taken by Sinn Féin. You’ll probably be the only one to survive.”

RBB was intrigued.

“And will you survive?”

“Absolutely,” preened Leo. “I’ve increased my vote in every election I’ve run in deputy. Always taken the first or second seat despite what people may say.”

That went down like a lead balloon.

One of two things will happen, he told the PBP leader who favours a permanent eviction ban: either the current Government will be returned or Sinn Féin, which favours lifting the ban in January, will take over.

“So what’s the point in your motion?” he asked as RBB gagged at the prospect of his return.

“It’s just ego,” shrugged Leo, Mr Humble himself.

He was in combative form facing into two votes on Wednesday aimed at knocking him off his perch over the Government’s handling of the crisis. Perhaps a little too much, given his boast about going into the contest holding the advantage of a “supermajority”.

When Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns got stuck in over the lacklustre performance of his much-vaunted Land Development Agency and then attacked him for constantly citing Opposition objections to housing developments as one of the main factors driving the housing emergency, the Taoiseach took grave umbrage.

The TD for Cork South-West said Fine Gael’s legacy in housing is one of abject failure. He shouldn’t be pinning the blame for this on the Opposition.

All grist to the Leaders’ Questions mill. Except Leo appeared to take it personally.

Holly Cairns can come into the Dáil and criticise his Government “but it’s a little bit precious for you to say that nobody can say anything back to you. You know - how dare we question your claims?”

The Taoiseach griped on. “How dare we” put our point of view across and “how dare we” bring some balance to the debate?

He was really very put out.

He called the new Soc Dems leader “a bit precious” not once, not twice but three times for thinking it “okay to shout us down when we dare to talk back to you”.

Holly Cairns looked puzzled. She wasn’t the only one.

“She didn’t actually say that,” observed Mary Lou McDonald, correctly.

It was an oddly jarring interlude in yet another day of argument and counter-argument on the housing issue. Both sides accusing each other of twisting the truth, jousting with their own sets of figures and statistics to produce very different outcomes.

The Government has no intention of reimposing the ban and says the aftermath of lifting it will be difficult for some but won’t be anything like the calamity the Opposition has been predicting for weeks.

There is a lot riding on the outcome.

In the meantime, anxious renters hoping for the best but dreading the worst are stuck in a horrible wait-and-see holding pattern.

But everyone in the Dáil agrees the Taoiseach was probably right on one count on Tuesday – it is highly unlikely that all the turkeys will vote for Christmas this time out.

And Sinn Féin will be licking its chops for a while yet.