The Dáil Bar: A drugs loophole had the country on a high, but it was a low week for Sinn Féin

Newstalk.com’s Political Correspondent Páraic Gallagher’s bar-stool take on the happenings this week in Irish politics

Last weekend, Gerry Adams stood on a stage in Derry to proclaim that Sinn Féin would lead the next Government and he would be Taoiseach. With the way politics has changed, along with an unpopular government, many observers felt it wasn’t such a pipedream.

But as they say, a week is a long time politics and the Sinn Féin President may have learned that truth the hard way over the past seven days. The sexual abuse revelations about Paudie McGahon have told us two things: Firstly, if Sinn Féin were in a coalition government here right now it would be collapsing; and secondly it makes it harder for any other party to now even contemplate going into government with them.

And in any other political party in the State, were such a sex abuse scandal to emerge, its members would split. But in Sinn Féin the message remains the same – like it did for Mairia Cahill and here again for Paudie McGahon. On both occasions Gerry Adams and other elected representatives of his party accepted that the sex abuse happened. But that’s where it ended. Asked about ‘kangaroo courts’ the answer is always the default answer: ‘I don’t know.’ 

Sinn Féin’s stock response on these issues comes from the deputy first minister in Stormont, Martin McGuinness – he wants some sort of a forum to be established for victims to get justice. While no-one disagrees that such a process would probably benefit most, if not all of the victims of sex abuse in the Republican movement, it cannot happen overnight.

Such a process, or a Commission of Investigation as called for by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, would take considerable resource and time to establish – and time is something that is not on anybody’s side in this instance. There’s a very real danger – that sex abusers, rapists are living in towns and villages around this country, relocated there as punishment for their crimes, but free to offend again.

It took until Thursday for the Paudie McGahon case to get any meaningful mention in the Dáil chamber. Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein Deputy leader was there as usual for Leaders’ Questions, but Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton was not, having already departed for her St Patrick’s Day trip to the United States.

In her place was Jan O’Sullivan, the Education Minister. What happened was a member of the Government telling it straight up to Mary Lou McDonald what must be done - and not to be erecting smoke-screens:

Rebooting Ireland – a New Era?

Lucinda Creighton is not superstitious. The former Fine Gael Minister chose Friday March 13 to formally launch her new political party, which up until then had the working title of Reboot Ireland. Now called RENUA – renew or new era – it has “no money” to quote the leader herself and plans to raise around €500,000 to contest in the next general election.

There were no real surprises – Lucinda is the leader, Billy Timmins who left Fine Gael over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy vote will be her deputy, Eddie Hobbs was on hand - but he still can’t say if he’ll be a candidate. The founder of the Jack and Jill foundation, Jonathan Irwin who had previously announced he would run as an Independent, is now on board.

RENUA will be an “open party” particularly in matters of conscience. Exactly how that would work in Government in Ireland isn’t clear. What if RENUA was in coalition with Fine Gael and Labour and had a slim Dáil majority and there was to be a vote on such a matter of conscience? How could a coalition pass such legislation if it wasn’t certain of a whip applying?

Lucinda Creighton says she wants new politics, but democratic revolutions don’t happen overnight and changing the way the system works won’t happen that quickly either.

The party leader was asked if RENUA was really just about her own re-election:

The party is still in development. The Carlow-Kilkenny by-election is only weeks away and they haven’t decided whether to contest the seat - but time is running out. Policies aren’t formulated in many areas too. Take Taxation for example, we were told:

“Taxation is essential for the funding of the good society. Excessive taxation and regressive taxation have negative consequences that have a depressive economic effect on society. Our priority is to undertake a root and branch review of the Irish taxation system including the PAYE and VAT systems. We will propose tax reforms across all areas of the economy including personal taxation in due course.”

Lucinda promises openness and transparency – but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case in policy formation.

Tale of Two Tuesdays for the Government

Tuesday was to be the coalition’s day – celebrating four years (and a day) in office. But it was also about legalising drugs and nearly banning straight marriages.

Enda Kenny and Joan Burton stood in the sunshine outside Government Buildings to tell us they were very successful altogether.  The Taoiseach told us:

“In the Government annual report being published today we are reporting progress on 90% of our commitments – 91% of Programme for Government commitments and 86% of the Statement of Government Priorities commitments”

While the Tánaiste told us:

“2014 was the year when our economic recovery began to accelerate. We recorded the fastest growth in the Eurozone. We’ll do the same this year. And What today’s report demonstrates is that this was no accident, no fluke or no coincidence. The actions we have taken, allied with the perseverance of our people have built this recovery.”

Little was said about the problems in health, the continuing water protests or threats of teacher strikes. Then again the Opposition didn’t do the usual routine of coming out and criticising the coalition either.

On the very same day, however, the Court of Appeal had struck down a law dating back to 1977 banning the possession of some drugs, including ecstasy. Health Minister Leo Varadkar moved quickly to bring in legislation but for over 50 hours people were free to be in possession of such drugs. News of the loophole spread far and wide with many international media outlets picking up on the government’s oversight.

And the Cabinet had to move to approve a new wording ‘as gaeilge’ for the Marriage Equality referendum. It was after some suggested that the wording the Government had adopted could potentially have been read as banning heterosexual marriages.