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Wednesday 17 July 2019

Ceann Comhairle refuses to apologise for calling TDs 'gurriers'

Labour's Ciaran Lynch (left) and Sinn Fein's Jonathan O'Brien
were involved in a verbal row
Labour's Ciaran Lynch (left) and Sinn Fein's Jonathan O'Brien were involved in a verbal row

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

CEANN Comhairle Sean Barrett is not going to apologise for telling TDs they were behaving like "gurriers shouting on a street at each other".

The word "gurrier" is on a Dail list of banned insults that also includes brat, buffoon, chancer, communist, corner boy, coward, fascist, guttersnipe, hypocrite, rat, scumbag, scurrilous and yahoo.

Mr Barrett made his remarks after a noisy session in the Dail that saw Sinn Fein and Labour TDs trading insults as they walked out of the chamber.

"Members should remember we are in the House of Parliament. This is not a shouting match, like gurriers on a street shouting at each other. Please behave," he told them.

But according to the Oireachtas Commission, Mr Barrett is not going to apologise or withdraw his remark because it was not in breach of the rules.

A spokeswoman said he had not directed the word at any individual person.

It is not the first time that the word "gurrier" -- defined as a low-class, tough, ill-mannered person -- has been used in the Dail.

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen called the mild-mannered former Fine Gael TD Padraig McCormack a "gurrier-in-chief" for heckling him two years ago.

But the remark was never withdrawn because the then-Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk said he had not heard it.

Ironically, Mr Barrett has constantly been telling TDs to mind their use of language because they are being broadcast live on a UPC channel that he helped to set up.

He was not in the chair when Independent TD Mattie McGrath used the word sh*te during a debate on septic tanks, but he said in a recent interview that the use of that sort of language demeaned the Dail.

So what specifically prompted Mr Barrett to snap yesterday and use the "gurrier" term?

He had been pleading to no avail with TDs to stop "shouting and roaring" while Taoiseach Enda Kenny was answering questions.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald then upped the noise level by naming former Labour leader Dick Spring as one of the former ministers who should have his pension cut.

That annoyed Dick's nephew Arthur Spring TD who was sitting just metres away. "Rob a bank," he shouted back.

A weary Ceann Comhairle told Ms McDonald to stop trying to ask the Taoiseach two questions instead of one.

"I'm not going to be bullied in this chair," he said.

"We won't be bullied either," replied Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh.


The final straw came at the end of Leaders' Questions. Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O'Brien and Labour TD Ciaran Lynch started having a row about homelessness in Cork city while Mr Barrett was trying to move on to the order of business.

Mr Barrett lost it and made his "gurrier" comment.

The deeper issue is that his authority has been undermined by the failure to resolve a row that took place on the final day of the Dail's summer term.

Independent TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan criticised Mr Barrett outside the Dail over the failure to have a vote on the Personal Insolvency Bill.

He repeatedly called him a "disgrace" during an encounter witnessed by several other TDs.

But Mr Flanagan has refused a demand by the Leinster House authorities to deliver a public apology to Mr Barrett on the floor of the Dail.

And the view now is that the authorities do not have the power to force him to apologise -- because the incident took place outside the chamber.

It is hard to see certain TDs stopping their constant heckling, interrupting and insult-calling due to the Ceann Comhairle's "gurrier" warning.

That means there may be more scenes like yesterday -- when he looked like a school teacher who has lost control of the classroom.

Irish Independent

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