From top: Regina Doherty on ‘The Week in Politics’ last Sunday; from left: presenter Sharon Ni Bheolain, Ms Doherty, Stephen Donnelly and Martin Kenny; Eamonn Kelly
RTÉ television do a show called ‘The Week In Politics‘. I caught some of it by accident last Sunday. Sharon Ní Bheoláin was hosting.
Like many RTÉ journalists, Sharon doesn’t do anything as obvious as engage with the actual issue. Instead she occupies that favoured neutral ground known as “objectivity”, from where she basically just interrupts people as if for the heck of it.
There seems no pattern or point to her interruptions. She seems to take special pleasure in saying, “You have ten seconds!” to respond to a really complicated proposition.
Regina Doherty, sent by Fine Gael, decided to announce on this occasion that the nurses weren’t striking for more money.
This comment threw everyone, but Regina was very sure of her ground.
Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil spokesperson for Health, swung his head repeatedly in astonishment to stare in disbelief at Regina.
Next to him, Martin Kenny, of Sinn Féin, spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, had his groundings visibly challenged.
But Regina’s claim that the nurses weren’t going on strike for more money, had at its core, a small basis in logic. In other words it wasn’t entirely insane, it was just deliberately unhelpful.
Here’s how it works. Since the nurses agreed to a pay deal a couple of years back, which will be honoured, Regina concluded that the nurses, by accepting that agreement, were already “happy” with regard to money.
So therefore they can’t be striking for more money, since they are “happy”.
It might be more accurate to say, if someone had thought to say it, that the nurses are striking for more funding, to increase staff and to have a fairer wage for all.
Regina made her absurd claim about the nurses, twice, before Stephen Donnelly politely asked Sharon for permission to speak.
He said: “This is twice Regina has said this and I really have to pull her up on it.” To which Sharon replied, “You have ten seconds”.
Then someone found a clip of Leo Varadkar talking about the nurses and the strike and the money.
We can’t afford to give the nurses more money, said Leo, neatly contradicting his minister for employment affairs and social protection, who peered through her glasses like a bewildered child in a crowded Specsavers.
We have to hold onto that money, said Leo, in case Brexit goes wrong in a few weeks time, and we also need it for housing.
But no one noticed the inconsistency. The initial absurdism was now twisted into a fresh absurdism by Leo’s assertion that the nurse’s strike is morally irresponsible given the need for housing.
Suddenly it was all over. We were right out of time. And nothing was clear. Nothing had been resolved or clarified. If anything, the issue was in worse condition that it had been before Sharon and the panel got their hands on it.
Thank you, goodnight and up yours.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance journalist