Matt Shanahan butters up the Taoiseach before delivering the sting in the tail – The Irish Times

Exquisite trowel-work in the Dáil chamber on Tuesday by Matt Shanahan.

By the time the independent TD for Waterford finished larding on his praise, the Taoiseach was more buttered up than a Christmas turkey.

Just as well because Micheál would have needed a good dollop of grease on his ears to squeeze his head through the double-doors after Matt’s cascade of compliments.

And why not? Flattery, it is said, will get you everywhere. Deputy Shanahan decided to test this out.

As a member of the Regional Group of independent TDs, he tends to stick to local issues when his turn comes around at Leaders’ Questions. With Micheál nearing the end of his tenure as Taoiseach, Matt decided to play on his emotions in the hope of landing his wish list for Waterford before Leo Varadkar arrives back on the scene.

“It is half-time for this Government,” he began with a suitably World Cup-themed opener, although Micheál probably wishes everyone would stop reminding him he has to hand over the captain’s armband next month.

But now that we are about to head into the dressing room for the interval, Matt felt he should give his analysis of the Coalition’s first half.

“I once asked you, perhaps unkindly, were you a Cork Taoiseach or a Taoiseach that happens to be from Cork?”

Matt isn’t clear on an answer yet. “That remains an open question.”

A tad harsh on Micheál, who may be Cork through and through but considers himself a Taoiseach for all the country.

Unlike Matt, who didn’t have to tell the House that he is a Deise deputy through and through, and not just a TD who happens to be from Waterford, because he never stops talking about it.

He started plámásing the Taoiseach with shameless gusto, extolling his greatness and telling him what a marvelous job he has done for the people of Cork, Ireland and the world, if not always Waterford.

“Under your tenure, I have watched Cork flourish,” carolled Matt, harking back to the bad old days of the 1980s when factories closed in the city before Micheál arrived on the scene to make everything better.

“I know it is an era from which your political philosophy was born and from which you draw. As a son of Cork, you have delivered for them, undoubtedly,” he gushed.

The Taoiseach was providing for his own people, delivering in a way which reminded the deputy of former Fine Gael minister Michael Noonan’s stalwart ability to “bend our nation’s spending towards Limerick”. And good on them for doing that.

“Sure is that not politics after all?” he drawled with syrupy sarcasm.

Matt fully understands why Micheál would want to look after his native heath. He understands how, when the Taoiseach is asked what things in life matter to him, “you always say community, kith and kin, GAA jerseys.”

This should have been the point for a tearful Matt to trumpet Waterford’s stirring battle cry of the modern era.

“Micheál, I love me county!”

But he missed his chance and kept going, soft-soaping a bemused Taoiseach, who had just been slapped around by Mary Lou McDonald on the housing rental crisis and then given a very stern talking to by Ivana Bacik on the same subject.

“I have often admired the intrinsically Irish qualities you possess, although they have not always worked to mine or to Waterford’s advantage”.

This was shaping up to be the sweetest display of sour grapes ever presented in the Dáil.

“You have achievements to point to on the national stage. Your statesmanship has restored an empathy and character to politics here.”

The chamber heaved to the sound of opposition TDs discreetly retching.

“This lies in stark contrast to the political misfortunes being visited on our traditional friends in Britain and the USA. Your focus on housing and health, your refusal to resist from attending to the most intractable, the most meaningful deficiencies of our Republic is commendable, although that change comes slowly.”

Sinn Féin sent out an SOS for more sick bags.

Waves of nausea swept the chamber.

But at least Micheál was liking it.

Slowly, unctuously, deputy Shanahan got to the point.

He reflected on what the Taoiseach’s term in office meant to the people he represents in Waterford.

“You have been kind enough to meet me on a number of occasions and to support my access to senior ministers and leading public servants,” he smarmed. And in turn, using strong evidence, Matt has pressed the southeast regional agenda.

The most urgent issues on it are the need for a 24-7 cardiac care unit, equal access to a university education, an air service to the UK and beyond, and the commencement of the North Quays development.

But sadly for the Waterford TD looking on in wonder at the “visible delivery” for Cork achieved by the magnificent Micheál, his projects “continue to lie just beyond the funding horizon, as yet invisible to the naked eye.”

Could it be that the Taoiseach might come good for the region “in the dog days of your term?” Because Matt still has hope that Micheál, fine man that he is, will come up with the goods.

“Hope,” he said plaintively, “which at this point is all I have to hang onto for my efforts to date.” The people of Waterford “failed by national politics for a generation, are waiting with bated breath.”

It was very moving. Just a Waterford boy standing in front of a Cork boy, asking him to escalate these projects for him.

There wasn’t a dry seat in the Opposition.

The Taoiseach thanked the independent TD for his kind comments, confessing he had been waiting for the sting in the tail.

“I just want to make it very, very clear that the Government is absolutely committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all our citizens, regardless of geography and regardless of where people live.”

He listed all that has already been done for the southeast and the projects in the pipeline. The second hospital Cath lab should be finished by the end of the month and equipped and commissioned in 12 to 16 weeks. Simon Harris opened the new Southeast Technological University in October and he’s been throwing money into it ever since.

The way Micheál was talking about all the great work done by his Government in Waterford, he could have been talking about Cork.

Matt magnanimously accepted “delivery is on the way”.

He thanked the Taoiseach.

But before he swaps over with Leo (a Dub in whom deputy Shanahan clearly has little faith), might Micheál do one last thing?

Will he deliver 24-7 cardiac care? “I’m asking you as your final gift in terms of your finishing tenure as Taoiseach … If that happens, I will say Maith Thú.”

The chamber was almost empty.

There wasn’t a bag left to barf in.


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