that is most unparliamentary language

6 of the dirtiest insults thrown across the floors of the Dáil and Seanad

Featuring: Scumbags, fannies, turnips and a certain future Taoiseach.

gogarty Damien Mulley Damien Mulley

THINGS HAVE BEEN getting rowdy lately in our national parliament.

We’ve had walkouts, threatened walkouts, defamation claims, three suspensions in an hour, and of course, lots and lots of TDs and Senators shouting over each other.

Believe it or not, though – it can get worse in Oireachtas Éireann.

Rúla búla is one thing, but from time to time, over the decades, our elected officials have unloaded on one another.

When it gets personal between these men and women, it gets really personal.

We’re talking “gurriers,” “fannies”, “bounders,” and “scumbags.”

Here are some of the dirtiest, nastiest insults thrown across the floor of our beloved Dáil and Seanad Éireann, over the last 80 years or so.

‘The Regina Monologues’

It’s 15 July 2013, and the government has just launched its referendum campaign to abolish the Seanad.

In that house, David Norris is bursting to express his disgust about the government’s anti-Seanad campaign document during Order of Business, can’t contain himself, and does this:

Hugh O'Connell / YouTube

He withdrew his “talking through her fanny” remarks the following day. As we know, the government’s campaign to abolish the Senate was defeated in October.

‘Everybody knows you are drunk’

Photocall-KEVIN-BOLAND-OLD-ELDERLY-00027412-630x419 Kevin Boland in later years Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

This is one of those things you’re really not supposed to say, but it has been said.

The old political euphemism, of course, is “tired and emotional“, but in December 1964, Social Welfare Minister Kevin Boland had no interest in subtlety when dealing with firey opposition TD Stephen “Stevie” Coughlan.

In a back-and-forth about an old age pension query, between the Fianna Fáil minister and the Labour deputy from Limerick, Coughlan wasn’t happy with Boland’s “application.”

Ceann Comhairle Patrick Hogan pulled him up on it.

Ceann Comhairle (CC): The Deputy is making a statement, not asking a question.
Coughlan: I want to embarrass him because he is crooked…Why did you not get your men working? – because you are an imbecile, Minister.
CC: That should be withdrawn….
Boland: I cannot be expected to examine the records myself…If Deputy Coughlan comes in here half drunk -
Coughlan: What?
Boland: You are drunk, and everybody knows you are drunk.
Coughlan: The Minister will not apply that remark to me.
Boland: Deputy Coughlan comes in here half-drunk.
Coughlan: Wherever I go, I conduct myself.

Both gentlemen were forced to retract their insults, but Coughlan got the last laugh with this sick, exquisitely-phrased burn.

CC: Deputy Coughlan must withdraw the statement he made.
Coughlan: I have already withdrawn it but I cannot remit him his imbecility.


‘Beet from turnips’

7168230616_6f4e59ee46_o TwistedStringKnits TwistedStringKnits

One of the most notoriously outspoken TDs for four decades from 1927 to 1969 was Cork farmer, Fianna Fáil deputy and former IRA man Martin Corry.

He wasn’t adverse to telling his rivals in the house to “shut up” and “sit down” on a regular basis, something that provoked this reaction from Fine Gael TD Daniel Morrissey as early as 1932:

It would be a relief to the House, and I think to the country, and probably to himself, if the Deputy who has just sat down would only practise what he preaches.
The Deputy said: ‘Let us have no more humbug, no more cant, if you cannot say anything decent, shut your mouth.’
I hope the Deputy will take to  himself the advice he has given to others…

Here’s an example of vintage Corry, during an exchange about beet crops with FG Agriculture Minister Neil Blaney, and FG deputies Mark Clinton and Gerry L’Estrange, in 1968.

Clinton: Has this important matter already been raised and discussed at length by the NAC, because the Minister does not seem to be very familiar with it?
Corry: I am concerned with the NAC or the NAB, but I am concerned with my beetgrowers when you pack of eejits stuck your noses in.
L’Estrange: …More Fianna Fáil ignorance.
Corry: You would not know beet from turnips, you idiot.

‘Let us be careful of the words we use’

Brian Cowen Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

It might not seem like it at times, but there are certain things you cannot say in the Dáil.

An internal document called “Salient Rulings of the Chair” sets this out in great detail.

Setting aside defamation and parliamentary privilege – about which we heard plenty earlier this week – there are specific epithets and terms of abuse that are considered out of order in the lower house of parliament.

‘Brat’, ‘chancer’, ‘rat’, and ‘yahoo’ are in there, as are ‘hypocrite’ and ‘scumbag,’ but we’ll come back to that.

The choice of forbidden language, however, has raised eyebrows, as illustrated in 2009 when Green party TD Paul Gogarty’s infamous rant against Emmet Stag revealed that “F**k you” was not on the blacklist.

Damien Mulley / YouTube

The emphasis on certain terms as against others can also seem strange. There are more than 20 citations of ‘hypocrite’ being ruled out of order, but only one regarding ‘scumbag.’

Here’s an incident from 1995, involving a future Taoiseach, which beautifully illustrates that point.

Government deputies from the Labour, Fine Gael and Democratic Left ‘Rainbow Coalition’ are having a set-to about state board appointments with opposition TDs from Fianna Fáil, including Brian Cowen.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy, formerly of Labour, steps in to call order, but perhaps misses the point.

Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps Deputy [Eric] Byrne will allow the business to proceed. I have called Deputy Harney.
Eric Byrne (Lab): Hypocrisy is alive and well——
Dermot Ahern (FF): You are the hypocrites.
Brian Cowen (FF): Political scumbag.
Ceann Comhairle: Let us be careful of the words we use. The word “hypocrite” is not in order.

There are complaints about Cowen’s ‘scumbag’ remark, but he twice stands by it, and only on the following day is the Ceann Comhairle forced to deem it “unparliamentary.”

Figure that one out.

‘The biggest buffoon that ever stood in any circus’

It’s March, 1942 – the height of ‘The Emergency’ – and Dáil Éireann is debating war-time rationing.

Enter that man again, Martin Corry, who considers the prospect of our English cousins having to eat rats before the end of the War and adds “I for one will not cry.”

Fine Gael opposition TD Thomas Francis “TF” O’Higgins takes exception at what he calls an “unchristian” remark from “an irresponsible and uncouth playboy,” and sets off this exchange.

Martin Corry (FF): That comes well from the biggest buffoon in this House. It is not the first time he indulged in buffoonery.
Captain Patrick Giles (FG): Sit down, you bounder.
Martin Corry: Sit down, you idiot.
TF O’Higgins: The deputy was going to give somebody a lesson —
Martin Corry: I will not take a lesson here.
TF O’Higgins: His buffoonery, when it affects only himself, is tolerable —
Martin Corry: The deputy is the biggest buffoon that ever stood in any circus.

‘Gurriers in the street’


Ceann Comhairles, since the inception of the Dáil in 1919, have often resembled exasperated múinteóirí trying to maintain control over a classroom on the last day of school.

But our current chairman, Seán Barrett, is particularly distinctive in this regard.

We’ve documented his greatest hits elsewhere, but here’s an example of him causing a ruckus, even while he tries to put a stop to the ruckus.

After a particularly rambunctious Leaders’ Questions in November 2012, Barrett took a moment, before moving on to the Order of Business, to try to impose decorum.

Members should remember we are in the House of Parliament.
This is not a shouting match, like gurriers on a street shouting at each other. Please behave yourselves.

While he may have been expressing the view of much of the watching public, the G-word is not allowed, under the Salient Rulings of the Chair.

Despite protests, Barrett refused to apologise.

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Tom O’Higgins as the Thomas O’Higgins in a debate from 1942, and included a photograph of him.

The Thomas O’Higgins in question was in fact his father, Thomas Francis (TF) O’Higgins.

Read: Chancer, scoundrel, handbagging and other words you’re not allowed say in the Dáil>

5 examples of Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett completely losing it with TDs>

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