IT’S 8AM ON a cool and fresh Friday morning and, on the face of it, a post-Budget debate involving the three most prominent women in Irish politics – who have very different views on the state of the country – should provide enough fireworks to warm things up.
After all, the fiery exchanges between Tánaiste Joan Burton and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald are now a regular treat during Thursday’s Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil.
Throw in Renua leader Lucinda Creighton into the mix and the Women4Election debate, in conjunction with business lobby group Ibec, was sure to be an interesting affair.
Let’s not forget the two other participants, Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone and her Seanad colleague Mary White, who pitched up at Ibec’s swanky Baggot Street offices nice and early for the breakfast spread that rather bizarrely included cocktail sausages.
As soon as the five politicians were in the building there was the obligatory photocall where they didn’t look unlike a pop group just waiting for their mics.
But for five politicians who don’t always see eye-to-eye the chit chat didn’t seem that forced.
That was until the photographer took control and demanded they stand up and look this way and that.
When a request was made of the five to literally pretend to chat, it got slightly more awkward and they actually did pretend to chat.
Needless to say the fivesome couldn’t wait to get down to the debate.
The Irish Independent’s legal affairs editor Dearbhail McDonald was the moderator for a debate that focussed on women in politics and Tuesday’s Budget.
Unlike the Dáil, there were plenty of women in the audience. But as Burton noted in her opening remarks there were a few men too – a situation she described as “very pleasant”.
Then she rattled through her usual talking points about the Budget, the recovery and achieving full employment. She made sure everyone knew about her own stamp on matters by proclaiming:
I increased child benefit by €5 and I make no apologies for retaining it as a universal payment.
At the conclusion of her speech there was a warm smattering of applause from everyone on the panel except for Creighton, Burton’s former government colleague, who sat stony-faced.
It’s unlikely the Tánaiste cared but she wasn’t sticking around anyway with further engagements meaning she had to be substituted for Labour TD Joanna Tuffy.
Mary Lou took to the podium as Burton awkwardly made for the exit to have a few words with the media and lament the loss of Web Summit people with “their backpacks and their satchels”.
Our chat with Joan outside meant we missed much of what Mary Lou and Creighton had to say although as we came back in the Renua leader was criticising the government for not having done lots of the things her party has advocated for. Nothing new there.
There were contributions from Noone and White too. Noone is running for Fine Gael alongside Leo Varadkar in Dublin West and recently held an impressive and well-attended fundraiser as well as having the pleasure of welcoming Chris O’Dowd to Leinster House.
White is, by all accounts, doing some serious work on the ground in Dublin Rathdown, knocking on doors up and down the constituency in the hope of taking an unlikely seat for Fianna Fáil.
After the opening remarks, the anticipated fireworks did not materialise between the participants when the debate was thrown to questions from the floor.
Instead it was all very convivial bar some minor shade from Mary Lou as she speculated aloud as to who had costed Renua’s flat tax proposal:
I assume they were costed by Eddie Hobbs.
Not so, said an annoyed Lucinda, who insisted that tax experts had done the job.
If anything there was more fun to be had on Twitter where junior minister Simon Harris took issue with Mary Lou’s claim that emigrants she had spoken to didn’t want to come home for a better tax rate:
While, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell teased Mary White about the plane she flew over Croke Park during the recent All-Ireland semi-final:
Back in the debate room, Dearbhail McDonald drew proceedings to a close by thanking attendees and “particularly the men”.
It was not the intense ideological shouting match we’d hoped for but more a friendly early-morning chat about the Budget.
Perhaps everyone’s keeping their powder dry for the election campaign.
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