Varadkar should mind his step on fiery nature of political exchanges

Mary Lou McDonald...public spat with Taoiseach in Dail Chamber.
Mary Lou McDonald...public spat with Taoiseach in Dail Chamber.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The one euphemism that covers a multitude must be ‘robust political exchange’; it can describe a tepid altercation during a Dáil debate or a roaring match that ends with somebody getting the bum’s rush out of the chamber.  There was a bit of robustness last week when Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald had a dramatic exchange with Leo Varadkar on the floor of the chamber.

She crossed to where the Taoiseach was sitting and became involved in a terse conversation with him before exiting through the doors.

The backstory was a series of testy and confrontational exchanges between Varadkar and Ms McDonald over the course of two days.

First of all he compared her to Marine le Pen on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, he explicitly accused her of always relying on a script. And throwing oil onto the fire, he added that when she wasn’t reading from a script she was hectoring and interrupting at other times.

It was a clear as a pikestaff that there was conscious strategy on the Government’s part to ‘call Sinn Féin out’ and attack its key speakers in the Dáil

Varadkar believed Gerry Adams and McDonald relied on scripts for all their contributions during Leaders Questions. And when he responded, they ignored whatever he had to say, and returned to the script for the follow-up question.

Enda Kenny’s strategy was more ‘rope-a-dope’. Whenever he was attacked from the Opposition benches he tended not to respond, save for the odd jibe at Adams for his IRA past or at Paul Murphy or Richard Boyd-Barrett for being trots.

Varadakr’s approach is underpinned by his belief he can more than hold his own with the opposition and “expose empty rhetoric”.

But he has to be careful; trying to compare your opponent to infamous historical or political figures can backfire.

Wednesday’s altercation began when McDonald brought up a perfectly legitimate and valid question.

It had emerged that AIB will pay no corporate tax for the next 20 years despite returning to profit. The reason why is that it can write the tax off against its enormous losses.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.