LAST WEEK’S LIST of written questions from deputies to various ministers in the Dáil included two rather odd queries – one from serial inquisitor Michael Healy-Rae and another from gardening enthusiast Olivia Mitchell.
The South Dublin TD’s question about a distressed tree at Leinster House and the Kerry politician’s call for public toilets in graveyards were two of the strangest of this session. But, surely weirder things have been asked in the Chamber?
TheJournal.ie has discovered some of the odd and wonderful topics that have been brought up in the Dáil over the years.
Healy-Rae hasn’t been the first deputy to start the toilet talk in the House with many questions about public facilities being raised over the years. One from back in 19 May 1971 – back when flushing mechanisms were seemingly still considered fancy – caught our attention.
John O’Leary (who, coincidentally is also from Kerry), asked the then Minister for Finance George Colley if the Office of Public Works will arrange for the construction of toilets at the rear of that office’s houses at Mangerton Road, Muckross in Killarney.
Arrangements are in train for the provision of flushed toilets in the cottages in question. Difficulties have arisen in regard to the location of septic tanks to serve some of the cottages but every effort will be made to resolve these as quickly as possible.
By 6 May 1976, there wouldn’t have been many people across Ireland who did not know who The Beatles were, but this question was still posed by Fianna Fáil TD Bill Loughnane:
Is the Minister aware that the Queen of England knighted a group called The Beatles for their cultural, ambassadorial work once when they visited America? Is the Minister aware that more people attend functions of Irish music in America than ever attended concerts by The Beatles?
Garret Fitzgerald answered somewhat sarcastically:
I will pass on the Deputy’s suggestion of the introduction of knighthood here.
Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne with Setanta, a six-year-old Gelding from the mounted unit, and a shopper on Henry Street, Dublin.
An earlier question from 21 November 1963 had us wondering if John, Paul, Ringo and George had a hand in setting up the Garda mounted unit.
Deputy Barron asked the Minister for Justice, if, “in order to allay public disquiet caused by anti-social demonstrations, such as that recently caused by the visit of The Beatles to this country, he will consider the formation of a horse-police unit for duty on occasions to control the mass movement of elements disposed towards a breach of public order”.
Charles Haughey admitted that certain improvements were under consideration but the Garda Mounted Unit was not established until 1998.
Green Party member Trevor Sargent, who served in the Dáil from 1992 to 2011, asked then-Minister for Health Brendan Howlin if there were any plans for the safe disposal of used condoms because of the “probable increase in their use” and “taking account of the dangers of the AIDS virus.
The disposal of used condoms is a matter of general hygiene, cleanliness and aesthetics rather than of public health. There is no evidence to show that the HIV virus can survive outside the human body.
Sure, they were all at it
In a 1952 parliamentary question about the use of State cars, a Mr Gerard Sweetman accused Fianna Fáil members of conveying voters to the polls in a State car, which was “plastered” with party labels and posters. Minister of Justice Gerald Boland denied the allegations, to which Fine Gael’s James Dillon responded:
Was it the fairies who put the posters on the cars—Fianna Fáil fairies? Na daoine maithe Fhianna Fáil.
The local debate
It’s always been a difficult line for deputies to walk – that of dealing with issues of national interest while still representing the people of their constituency. But you can’t get more local than this, which happened last September:
Deputy Peter Mathews asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if a shop (details supplied) can become a lottery agent, in view of its location and footfall; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Howlin swiftly told him that he had no role in decision of this nature. “Retailers who wish to act as a Lottery agent are advised to contact the National Lottery Company directly.”
The price of tomatoes
Dr Joseph Brennan had major concerns about the prices of tomatoes back in July 1950, accusing traders of profiteering by controlling the selling price of the fruit.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary justify a charge of 3/- a lb. for tomatoes which are sold on the market at 1/- and 1/2 a lb.?
Of fur coats and hot-water bottles
In July 1967, a circuit judge in Donegal threatened to refuse to hold court unless necessary repairs were carried out on the buildings. Then minister Patrick Lenihan said the local authority had failed to carry out its duty. This was the subsequent heckle from Martin John Corry:
Does the Minister not think that a hot water bottle and a fur coat for the judge would be a cheaper way out?
It wasn’t the first time hot-water bottles were discussed in the Chamber. Back in June 1949, during a discussion of animal diseases, Minister for Agriculture James Dillon advocated the use of a three-walled milking shed as part of a fight against tuberculosis (TB). Patrick O’Reilly, a Senator and a farmer, posed the problem of snow from the east which could see such a structure fill up. Dillon’s solution?
You would bring out a hot-water bottle and sit them on it.
The larceny of a donkey
We’ll give you this from 25 January 1927 in its full, uninterrupted glory:
AODH O CULACHAIN asked the Minister for Justice whether he is aware that a donkey-cart and complete set of harness, the property of Thomas Duggan, Prosperous, Co. Kildare, and a donkey owned by Thomas Ennis, also of Prosperous, were stolen on the 1st October, 1925; whether a statement was made about three weeks ago to the Gárda Síochána in Clane, by a man who admitted assisting in the robbery, that the donkey, cart and harness were sold to a man in Trim, Co. Meath, and what action has been taken by the Gárda Síochána in Clane and Trim to trace and restore this property to the owners.
Mr. Christopher O’HIGGINS: I am informed that the facts in regard to the larceny of the donkey, cart and harness are as stated. The Gárda Síochána received information from a tramp who confessed that he took part in the theft, implicating another man. The latter is at present in gaol and his period of imprisonment will not expire for two years. The Gárda Síochána have not arrested the tramp in connection with the larceny as they consider that he is an imbecile, and his information cannot be corroborated in regard to the person who was stated to have bought the stolen property. The Gárda are pursuing inquiries in the matter, and if the stolen property can be traced it will be returned to the owners.
Hair-comb millionaires and poor cricketers
This technically didn’t come from a parliamentary question but when Minister Sean Lemass tried to introduce a duty on hair combs, it provided some interesting debate.
Gerard Mulcahy: “We read a leading article this morning about making millionaires out of hair combs. Is the purpose of this proposal to give an opportunity to somebody to become a millionaire out of hair combs?”
Lemass: “No, nor has it any relation to hair shirts.”
Duties imposed on cricket balls also caused problems, according to Jack Belton in 1957 who asked the Minister for Finance if he is aware of the hardship imposed on cricket clubs because of the cost of cricket balls; and if he will consider removing any duties or levies on them until such time as they are manufactured in this country.
Royal Wedding jitters
The occasion of the wedding of the Duke of Kent and Princess Marina at Buckingham Palace in London on 29 November 1934. Left to right, in rear: King of Norway, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, Prince Waldemar, Prince George of Greece, unidentified, ex-King George of Greece and Prince Nicholas (Princess Marina’s father). In front from left to right: unidentified, Queen Maud of Norway, Princess Nicholas (Princess Marina’s mother), King George V, the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Kent, Her Majesty Queen Mary, the King of Denmark and the Queen of Denmark. Seated in front left to right are Lady Mary Cambridge and Princess Elizabeth. (AP Photo)
The Royal Wedding of the Duke of Kent and Duchess Marina in 1934 created quite the furore across political and media spheres.
In response to a ‘ceisteanna’, Eamon de Valera told the Dáil that Government advertising orders had been cancelled on his direction because of a feud with the Sunday Independent.
The newspaper had claimed – twice – that an invitation to attend the wedding was received by the Governor-General. This was refuted at Government level and an official denial published in the paper. The advertising was cancelled when the Irish Independent add the following to the Government’s official denial:
“The Irish Independent is, however, in a position to state that an  invitation to attend the Royal Wedding was received by the Governor-General.”
After the wedding, Irish interest in it didn’t abate. While hundreds of thousands tuned into the latest London fiesta in 2011, not as many got the opportunity in 1935. As outlined in this parliamentary question and answer, the people of Ballinrobe were denied a planned showing in their local cinema because of a decision by the local Garda Superintendent.
Risteárd Ua Maolchatha asked the Minister for Justice if he will state for what reasons the Gárda Síochána took possession, on Monday 17 December, of the film of the Duke of Kent’s royal wedding, which was being shown at the Theatre, Kilkenny, and if he will state upon whose instructions and for what reason the Gárda failed to return it to the management for showing on the night of Wednesday, 19th December.
Mr. Ruttledge: The film referred to was kept in the Gárda barracks for safe custody. The manager of the cinema informed the local superintendent that he did not intend to show the film in public, but only privately to friends. The manager sent for the film rather late on the evening of the 19th December and was unable to obtain it, as the sergeant who had charge of the film was absent on patrol, having taken with him the key of the press in which it had been deposited.
Risteárd Ua Maolchatha: asked the Minister for Justice if he will state whether he is aware than on Sunday night, 9th December last, the Ballinrobe Central Cinema proprietor informed the audience that at the request of the Superintendent of the Gárda Síochána the picture of the Duke of Kent’s royal wedding would not be shown, and if he will state upon whose instructions the Superintendent took this action, and what was the reason therefor.Mr. Ruttledge: In this case the Superintendent, on his own initiative, suggested to the manager of the cinema that in the interests of the peace of the district it might be better not to show the film in question. The manager agreed with the Superintendent and did not show the film.
He may have had genuine fears though, as this subsequent question highlights:
Risteárd Ua Maolchatha: Information on Richard James Mulcahy Zoom on Richard James Mulcahy asked the Minister for Justice if he will state whether any of the party of about 40 who entered the Theatre at Kilkenny, on the night of the 20th December, for the purpose of preventing exhibition of the film of the Duke of Kent’s royal wedding, have been identified and charged, and if so if he will state before what type of court they were charged and if convicted what punishment was imposed.
Operation Lace Curtain
New blue carpets were put down at Leinster House during summer recess to the annoyance of Fine Gael deputy John Kelly who reminded the Minister of State Sylvester Barrett about an old German proverb: “he who despises the penny is not fit to be trusted with the pound.”
The exchange continues:
Kelly: Could I ask the Minister of State whether the foreign dignitaries to whom he refers were simply some of our sundered kith and kin, representatives of the American House of Representatives and Senate led by their Chairman, Mr. Tip O’Neill? Are not these the digitaries for whom overtime had to be worked in putting down a bit of blue carpet?
Barrett: They were dignitaries but we also had a visit to the House, at least the Ceann Comhairle had a visit, from the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg.
Kelly: The Minister of State is not telling us that we are going to fire down blue carpet for a three-quarters of an hour visit of a grand duke and duchess? Is the Minister fo State serious about this?
Barrett: I am serious when I say were were requested to do it.
Kelly: This is more of Operation Lace Curtain. What was wrong with the clean lino which was there, with which because the colour scheme, the present royal blue carpet, royal no doubt attributable to the Grand Duke and Duchess, offers such a very unpleasing aesthetic contrast? Have we gone mad altogether, that we can fire out £8,000 for this exercise which has not even been done properly, because this carpeting, is of a kind — in so far as my skill in such matters is concerned — that would lead me to believe it is intended for wall to wall laying and is already beginning to fray along the edges where people walk on it? What was wrong with the old lino, or have we taken leave of our senses altogether? Sir, I know it is a small matter but it is a symbol of what has overtaken this State.
The Kerry hum
No, it’s not a traditional jig but an “annoying and unusual” mystery noise that Michael Healy-Rae wants investigated.
He has put two parliamentary questions to Environment Minister Phil Hogan, on 7 and 14 March of this year, and his most recent question pointed out that the “mystery noise has been occurring in the area of Glencuttane Lower, in Beaufort, Killarney since April 2011″.
Have some fun for yourself by searching the Oireachtas database of debates which dates back to the 1920s. Let us know in the comments if you find any gems that we missed.
The inspiration: Michael Healy-Rae on toilets and graveyards>