Mary Lou’s per­for­mance eas­ily bears re­peat­ing

Irish Daily Mail - - News -

IT was one of the most dra­matic mo­ments the Dáil has seen in quite a while. The Taoiseach and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDon­ald had just been spar­ring across the cham­ber about AIB’s tax af­fairs.

The ran­cour be­tween the pair had es­ca­lated un­til the Leas Ceann Comhairle tried to move the mat­ter on and called an end to Taoiseach’s Ques­tions. Mary Lou’s mic was switched off, but she wasn’t done.

So she stepped out of her seat and, in­stead of mak­ing her way up the steps be­hind her, she be­gan to walk across the floor to­wards Leo. It was like a scene from an old western, where the sa­loon falls silent and the bar­man stops polishing glasses and the pi­anist ducks un­der the stool. This was Rooster Cog­burn fac­ing the Ned Pep­per Gang in True Grit – what was she go­ing to do? Walk across and lock the doors? This was Conor McGre­gor squar­ing up to Floyd May­weather – what was she go­ing to say, ‘Dance for me, boy’?

In­stead, she loomed briefly over the Taoiseach, like Don­ald Trump body­check­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the Pres­i­den­tial de­bates, and hissed some­thing in his face. All we could hear was, ‘I’ll write to you...’, a sen­tence that has rarely packed such men­ace. A few min­utes ear­lier, the Taoiseach had ac­cused her of be­ing over-re­hearsed, which was a bit like Sir Lau­rence Olivier call­ing Dame Mag­gie Smith a bit of a ham.

What­ever about their ear­lier ex­changes, though, this fi­nal act was def­i­nitely not in the script, and it made for grip­ping view­ing. Here were two well-matched com­bat­ants com­ing from en­tirely dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines – think MMA ver­sus Queens­bury Rules, just with po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies in­stead of mus­cle, ex­cept this pair didn’t have to pre­tend to dis­like each other. There’s al­ways some­thing slightly du­plic­i­tous about politi­cians who talk tough across the house and then re­pair for a few pints to­gether in the Dáil bar, but you can tell that Mary Lou and Leo aren’t go­ing to be crack­ing open a bot­tle of San Pel­le­grino any time soon.

They dis­agree fun­da­men­tally, and pas­sion­ately, and sin­cerely and, un­like a lot of what passes for de­bate in the Dáil, it’s not just per­sonal nig­gle. They have ut­terly op­pos­ing views about so­cial is­sues, eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics, big busi­ness, the peo­ple who get up early and the peo­ple who have no in­cen­tive to leave their beds. They both put thought and ef­fort into their con­tri­bu­tions to Dáil de­bates: they’ve both per­fected their de­liv­ery and tim­ing and rhetor­i­cal flour­ishes, and they bring a level of en­gage­ment and box of­fice watch­a­bil­ity to Dáil busi­ness that we haven’t seen in some time. Grudge matches are al­ways box of­fice.

Mary Lou McDon­ald is the de facto leader of the Op­po­si­tion, and one of the finest and most com­pelling per­form­ers in the Dáil. Like a lot of women, I’d sup­port her in a heart­beat if she aligned her­self with any­one other than Sinn Féin, be­cause she’s ex­actly the sort of smart, quick-wit­ted, take-no-pris­on­ers role model that young po­lit­i­cally aware women need – if only ‘take-no-pris­on­ers’, when it comes to Sinn Féin’s his­tory, wasn’t just a turn of phrase. She can ar­tic­u­late her po­si­tion on any sub­ject in a cou­ple of well cho­sen and em­i­nently quotable sen­tences, even when she hasn’t had a chance to prac­tise them.

It’s ironic that the Taoiseach should con­sider it a slight to be ac­cused of re­hearsal, since he ably de­fended him­self against the same charge dur­ing the lead­er­ship cam­paign. What’s the prob­lem with putting some thought into what you’re go­ing to say?

WE de­serve the cour­tesy of prepa­ra­tion and prop­erly con­structed ar­gu­ment, rather than the drab wit­ter­ing that of­ten passes for de­bate in Le­in­ster House. We de­serve to have both po­si­tions thrashed out in co­her­ent prose, not par­roted in clichés. And ev­ery­one’s a win­ner – the more elo­quent and en­gag­ing a politi­cian’s de­bat­ing style, the more at­ten­tion their points re­ceive. Un­til Leo and Mary Lou tan­gled last week, I didn’t know that AIB will be ex­empt from cor­po­ra­tion tax for the next 20 years be­cause of its losses dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, even though the bank is now mak­ing a healthy profit. I didn’t know a thriv­ing com­pany would be con­tribut­ing ‘zip, zilch, zero’ in tax for two more decades, un­til Mary Lou spelled it out.

Yet that’s pre­cisely what Dáil de­bate is meant to be about, which is why it’s in all our in­ter­ests to have de­bate worth stay­ing awake for. And why, for any politi­cian who fan­cies tak­ing on Mary Lou, it’s worth his while get­ting up early to learn his lines.

Ex fac­tor: Meghan Markle

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