Our paths almost crossed on the landing outside the main doors to the Dáil chamber.
Micheál Martin bustled straight over. “I’m back on the yokes!”
Beg your pardon, Taoiseach?
“I’m back on the yokes,” he repeated. “You know, the eggs.”
Phew. He’s back on the yolks.
The Minister for Agriculture was at his shoulder. Maybe the boss shouldn’t be imparting this sort of information willy-nilly, we said to him. Some people, particularly younger folk, might get the wrong end of the glowstick. Then again, they might start seeing the Taoiseach in a new light.
Charlie McConalogue just laughed. Micheál wanted to set the record straight following our stunning scoop yesterday that he nudges the yolks out of halved boiled eggs in the Dáil canteen and only puts the white bits on his plate.
He was not disputing the veracity of this insightful information in any way. This used to be the way he rolled. But not any more.
“They contain a thing called choline,” he explained. “Very good for brain function.”
So the Taoiseach is enthusiastically back on the yolks now. Or have we just hallucinated the whole episode? A distinct possibility, given that one of the main highlights of a dull afternoon in Leinster House was the installation of a swanky new sparkling water dispenser in the canteen. It provides still water, too.
Micheál will be beside himself.
In the Dáil, the Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leader were absorbed in another instalment of their endless argument about housing. He wants a “solutions”-focused approach. She wants a “reality”-focused approach. And ne’er the twain shall meet, it seems.
Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats took up where Mary Lou McDonald left off and talked about the Government’s newly launched pension auto-enrolment scheme. “While welcoming plans to address the pension time-bomb, we have a housing time-bomb that exploded years ago,” she told Micheál.
Murphy was not against improving people’s pension prospects but feared a generation would be forced to spend that extra pension money to keep the roof over their heads
It would be a great idea if it didn’t look suspiciously like a wheeze to get workers priced out of the property market to put their money into a pension fund which they can then use to cover the rent they will still have to pay in their retirement years, she reckoned.
Is this the real reason the Government is introducing this plan for workers in the private sector? “So they can raid the pension fund to continue to pay rack rents when they reach their mid-60s,” she said.
The Taoiseach sounded frustrated. He wished people would welcome this plan in the spirit in which it was intended. “There can be no argument against doing the right thing,” he responded. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Despite Opposition TDs mentioning media reports to the contrary, he stressed there was no sinister motive underpinning the measure. He was “somewhat taken aback” by the commentary on the auto-enrolment scheme, something he had believed most TDs would welcome.
The main reason behind it is to do something about the dearth of pension cover in the private sector, he said, adding that he was “delighted” his government has moved to tackle the issue.
Murphy was not against improving people’s pension prospects but she feared a generation of people, struggling now to pay rent and with no prospect of owning a home when they retire, would be forced to spend that extra pension money just to keep the roof over their heads. She argued that the answer was not just about building more houses, but to build more houses that workers could afford to buy.
Micheál didn’t disagree, but it was a case of trying to build them fast enough. “I know I annoy people when I say it: we do need to get real in terms of delivering housing schemes much faster than we are. Everybody needs to get real.”
What is the point in coming into the Dáil every week “having a go, saying this is a great crisis, this is terrible, government is not doing enough” while carrying on as usual in councils around the country?” he asked Opposition TDs. “No problem – we can object to that, we can amend that, we can change that. And yet you come in here attacking, attacking, attacking. That’s not going to wash any more.”
As for the auto-enrolment scheme, it is designed to give “pension coverage to workers in our society that supplements the State pension and will enable them to have a quality of life in their later years. That’s it.”
“Not if they can’t pay their rent,” shot back Richard Boyd Barrett.
Later in the afternoon, the Dáil set aside 3½ hours for deputies to make statements on the crisis in Ukraine. Most of them making, more or less, the same speech.
Mary Lou McDonald repeated her call for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. His Execrably Mr Yura Fibbertov is still ensconced in Rathgar telling porkies for the motherland, but the Government is reluctant to boot out any more diplomats after expelling four alleged spooks on Tuesday.
Russia immediately signalled it would indulge in tit-for-tatski retaliation that will probably see the expulsion of four of the six Irish diplomats in Moscow, where Ireland is anxious to maintain some presence.
Fine Gael backbencher Joe Carey, looking ahead to Thursday’s address by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to both Houses of the Oireachtas, suggested that arrangements be put in place broadcast the speech on big screens in towns and cities across the country.
The Clare TD reckoned Merrion Square Park across from Leinster House would be an ideal location in Dublin “and we would encourage Ukrainian people, people who are living here, and refugees, to attend and we can all stand with Ukraine and its people on the day.”
Meanwhile, the Oireachtas pulsated with fervent apathy from 11am when counting began in the Seanad byelection for Ivana Bacik’s vacant seat on the Trinity College panel.
What with sorting the ballots, each one contained in an envelope within an envelope, and getting them in the right piles and stuff, it was after 7pm when the actual first count got under way.
The Seanad election process is fiendishly complicated to overcompensate for the dodgy nature of the rotten borough system that yields up our senators
TDs and Senators, voracious political animals all, clean forgot to rush down the road to Trinity to follow the action as it rattled along like a tortoise with gout.
Bacik, whose election to the Dáil last year gave rise to the vacancy, called into the count centre to wish the Labour candidate well while managing not to look ecstatic at escaping the backwater of the Upper House.
The Seanad election process is fiendishly complicated to overcompensate for the dodgy nature of the rotten borough system that yields up our senators. Hopeless political anoraks who can’t resist any sort of election count were predicting that it could be late into Thursday night or even Friday morning before a winner is declared. Sure we’ll have burst entirely with the excitement by then. We might need some of Micheál’s yolks to keep going.