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Friday 24 November 2017

Andrew Lynch: Cutting out the swearing is just the first change we need for a modern Dail

To put it politely, Paul Gogarty is unlikely to be remembered as one of the towering figures in 21st century Irish politics.

In his own small way, however, the Green TD has left his mark on history.

Thanks to his use of foul language, the Dail is about to put in place a new code of conduct -- one that will hopefully start the long, slow process of dragging our national parliament into the 21st century.

We Irish like to pride ourselves on our command of the English language, with no fewer than four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature hailing from these shores.

For some strange reason, however, this natural gift for wit and repartee has rarely managed to express itself in the country's premier debating chamber.

The general standard of debate was summed up by an exchange last March, in which the Fianna Fail TD Ned O'Keeffe suggested that one of his opponents should "go home and bake some buns".

The clip of Gogarty yelling "F*** you!" twice at the Labour TD Emmet Stagg last December has naturally become a popular hit on YouTube. However, the ultimate embarrassment came two weeks ago when a Fine Gael deputy shouted out "Who's the cougar?" after an attractive female Australian parliamentarian was introduced to the Dail.

Asked if he was making any insinuations about her preference for younger men, a shame-faced Noel Coonan was forced to claim that he hadn't known the word had a double meaning.



GUTTERSNIPE

When the Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privileges publishes its new code in a few weeks' time, we can only hope it has a slightly better grasp of contemporary slang.

As Gogarty himself has pointed out, the current Salient Rulings of the House does not actually prohibit the use of the f-word. It does, however, say that all TDs are strictly forbidden to call any of their colleagues a buffoon, brat, fatty, gurrier, guttersnipe, fascist, scumbag or yahoo.

Although some of our politicians are not exactly known for their truthfulness or sobriety, it is also impermissible to accuse a fellow parliamentarian of telling a lie or being drunk.

And while communist, chancer and cornerboy are regarded as filthy insults that must never be uttered within the hallowed chamber, the c-word itself is officially quite acceptable.

You might have assumed that this list was drawn up back in the days before Roddy Doyle or Quentin Tarantino, when the worst a politician might expect to be called was a dastardly scoundrel.

In fact, it was updated as recently as March 2006. And in case it might be dismissed as an anachronism that nobody pays any attention to anyway, it should be noted that the Dail spent several minutes last Wednesday arguing over whether it was okay for the Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche to describe FG's Bernard Durkan as "an ass". In fact, most people could not care less what language our politicians used as long as they made an effort to make their speeches even vaguely interesting.

From the Taoiseach down, most TDs still continue the practice of droning through prepared scripts that have clearly been prepared by civil servants and that often they have never clapped eyes on before.



RADICAL

Some TDs like to gripe at RTE for showing Oireachtas Report at a time that's only convenient for alcoholics and insomniacs, but they're hardly in a position to preach when the cameras show that so few of them can be bothered to make it into the chamber themselves.

Dail Eireann is in desperate need of a radical overhaul that will make it look and sound more relevant to the public it's supposed to serve.

Updating the code of swear words is just a very small part of that process.

But encouraging TDs to speak in a language that ordinary people can understand?

To quote the US vice president Joe Biden, that really would be "a big f***ing deal".

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