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Column: We are entitled to demand our TDs are sober while voting on legislation

Our TDs debate and vote on different, vitally important issues every day. We as taxpayers are entitled to expect them to do so without being under the influence of alcohol, writes Cora Sherlock.

Cora Sherlock

THE NEWS THAT the Dail Bar did a busy trade while the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Bill was being voted into law isn’t exactly news at all. Even though Enda Kenny was somehow able to look the other way at the time, everyone else saw the result of “a couple of pints” over the course of that long day and night when Tom Barry TD pulled his colleague Aine Collins onto his knee in the now infamous “lapgate” incident.

The fact that the vote in question was literally one of life-and-death proportions makes it more disturbing that a large amount of alcohol was sold in both the Members’ Bar and Visitors’ Bar, but in reality, the issue under discussion is somewhat irrelevant.

Our TDs debate and vote on different, vitally important issues every day. Abortion one day, social welfare cuts the next, hospital overcrowding the day after that. Aren’t we, as taxpayers, entitled to expect them to do so without being under the influence?

What hope is there of any kind of reasonable debate?

Think of the issue that matters most to you in your daily life. Now imagine that the men and women making the relevant decisions do so after a few drinks. Or a few more, depending on whether the Taoiseach decides he wants to “get rid” of that issue before the next day’s business. After all, that’s what happened back in July when the Chamber remained open until almost 5am, a time when most of us aren’t really up to discussing the rights and wrongs of abortion. Throw alcohol into the mix and what hope was there of any kind of reasonable debate?

It presents a wider problem because there’s no easy solution. Sure, we could close the Dail Bar, but isn’t that akin to a parent cutting their child’s internet access because they can’t be trusted to act responsibly? Is this how we see our TDs? Possibly.

The reactions since this news broke have ranged from outrage, to shock, to resignation. It’s the last one that should trouble us most.  We should care about this – and care deeply – but most voters have simply switched off. It’s a position which suits the government because voter apathy is the enemy of real political reform, something badly needed at the present time.

As voters, we’re in the driving seat. We employ our TDs but they ignore that fact and we let them carry on regardless. How many employers do you know who would allow highly-paid professionals to take part in serious negotiations following a liquid lunch? Not many, I’ll wager, and yet we don’t put any provisions in place preventing our elected representatives from doing exactly that.

People had their beliefs mocked by some TDs

Maybe that’s why Enda Kenny felt so confident in the aftermath of “lapgate”. With a brazenness unusual even for him, he didn’t explain the actions of his Party member, or feel the need to address it in any way. Instead, he relied on the fact that no matter what our TDs do, they’ll be re-elected anyway.

Sure, we might shout about what a national disgrace they are on Monday, but by Tuesday we’ll all have moved on to something else.  And the election?  Well, we’re constantly told that it’s years away.  Perhaps, but some memories last longer than others, a fact Enda Kenny may well come to regret.

In a strange way, I’m grateful for “lapgate”. It was one of the seedier moments of a tragic night. Committed campaigners on both sides of the abortion debate kept vigil outside the gates of Leinster House, their beliefs mocked by the actions of some TDs who should have known better. But the curtain is drawn back now. We’ve seen what’s on the other side, and it’s not too attractive.

What else goes on behind that curtain? What other vital decisions have been made by TDs who are just in from the bar, acting in a way that would not be acceptable in the private sector?

A political system that has lost connection with the electorate

This is Ireland. People meet in bars. It’s going to happen. But there’s a fine line between having a drink and having a laugh at the taxpayer’s expense.

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What’s wrong with a law that says no alcohol will be served in the Dail until after the day’s business has been finalised? Or one saying that vital issues won’t be discussed when people are so dead on their feet that they need something stronger than coffee to keep them upright? Or the one that we need most of all – that the Taoiseach respects the concerns of the People who elected him?

This report from that night of midsummer madness is the latest indictment of a political system that has lost any connection with the electorate. It’s time for voters to take control again.

Let’s become the responsible parent. Let’s start thinking about the kind of politicians we want and need, and let’s make our views known so that the next election won’t just be an exercise in semantics.  For everybody’s sake, it’s time to sober up.

Cora Sherlock is the Deputy Chairperson of the Pro Life Campaign.

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Cora Sherlock

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