If Ireland is ever threatened with a nuclear attack – perhaps after it tells the UK where to go for repayment of its €4bn bilateral loan which has been used to repay bondholders at Irish banks, including bonds held by UK banks – then, feck the iodine tablets and cowering in the corner, I’ll be off to Committee Room 4 in the basement of Leinster House. Why? Because, apparently the doors are so thick that when they are locked, no amount of shouting and banging from the outside can be heard on the inside. Or at least that’s what the account of last Wednesday night’s snafu, given by Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey, implies. My sources provide a different account of events.
What happened on Wednesday night was a vote on a proposal in the Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee, in which the Government has a clear majority of 15-12, was in fact lost by the Government 9-11. Which is extraordinary enough. The proposal, which was subject to a vote, was in fact tabled by a Government deputy, Peter Mathews, apparently in the face of clear opposition from his own colleagues; and after tabling the proposal, Deputy Mathews was ordered to vote against it – there are claims that Deputy Mathews was in fact subjected to the party whip, but as neither the whip, Paul Kehoe or assistant whip Joe Carey were in attendance, it is difficult to understand how that would have happened. This is the sequence of events:
It had been a long old day for the finance committee. At 2pm, it started its work, and that was after a morning of Leaders’ Questions and other business. For four hours until 6pm, the Committee quizzed the NAMA trio of Brendan McDonagh, Frank Daly and John Mulcahy on NAMA’s operations and at 6pm, just after the NAMA folks had said their “goodbyes”, the Committee took a 20 minute break. After it resumed it dealt with outstanding business and it was just after 7pm that chartered accountant, career banker, outspoken commentator on banking debt and Fine Gael deputy, Peter Mathews tabled his proposal that the Committee should summon before it, a key participant in the ongoing negotiations on Anglo’s promissory notes, which will see this country handing over €3.1bn in two weeks time. It should be said that Deputy Mathews tabled his proposal in the teeth of opposition from his own Government colleagues who apparently feared that sensitive negotiations could be adversely affected by revelations or statements by participants in those negotiations.
But table the proposal he, Deputy Mathews, did, and the proposal was that central bank governor, Professor Patrick Honohan be summoned to appear in front of the finance committee before 23rd March 2012 to answer for his part in negotiations on Anglo’s promissory notes, which have, to a greater or lesser extent, been ongoing since before September 2011. For information, it is widely believed that the next meeting of the ECB’s governing council on 22nd March 2012 will be the last chance to avert the promissory note payment of €3.1bn which is due by 31st March 2012.
And when Deputy Mathews tabled his proposal, the chairman, Labour TD Alex White called for a vote and the Leinster House “voting bell” was rung. I am reliably informed that the “voting bell” can be heard in every part of Leinster House, including the bar, restaurant and toilets. Alas, as with most committee business, many of the deputies and senators were in fact absent from Committee Room 4 when the vote was called though curiously it was six Government politicians that were ultimately missing and only one non-Government politician. Finding that the Government was in a minority, and the absent politicians seemingly not having heard the voting bell, two Fine Gael deputies present in the committee room, Liam Twomey and Kieran O’Donnell set off to round up their colleagues. It is claimed by Deputy Twomey that those colleagues were in a “parliamentary meeting”, Deputy Twomey did NOT say that they were blind drunk in the Dail bar having started drinking in celebration of the annual St Patrick’s Day holiday early, and no-one has produced evidence in support of that, no-doubt, scurrilous suggestion. Some moments later, Deputy Twomey claims, he arrived back outside Committee Room 4 along with Deputy O’Donnell – there’s no word about their colleagues who had been in a “parliamentary meeting” – but the two deputies were now unable to gain access to the committee room because it was seemingly locked.
There is some surprise at this claim on the part of sources, who say that rooms are not locked in Leinster House, and indeed to do so, would create a fire hazard. And even if doors were locked, then one of the many ushers, always on hand, would have been able to do something about it. And even if the doors were locked and an usher couldn’t be found, then strong banging or shouting outside would have been audible inside. Of course, it might have been possible for those inside the room to hold the door shut or maybe prevent double doors being opened by securing the handles with a necktie, for example – and it was remarkable that Pearse Doherty was tie-less when he appeared in the Dail on Thursday morning – or rosary beads, but presumably that would also have required some form of distraction of Government politicians present in the committee room.
After the vote was taken, and the doors were finally opened, there is no report of those inside finding an exasperated shower of disgruntled Government politicians waiting outside demanding to know why the doors were locked, or why no-one let them in after all the presumed shouting and banging. And it should be made abundantly clear that no-one has suggested that Deputies Twomey and O’Donnell did in fact find their colleagues in the bar and simply joined them for drinks and didn’t bother returning to Committee Room 4 or that the “lock-in” didn’t actually take place in Committee Room 4 at all, but in the Dail bar!
A Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all – Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig
UPDATE: 21st March, 2012. The voting record is now available from last week and shows the following:
In addition to the absence of Liam Twomey and Kieran O’Donnell, the following were also absent on the Government side: Michael Creed, Jim Daly, Billy Timmins and Michael D’Arcy.