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40 Interruptions, 17 Interjections, and 1 Irritated Minister

Posted on: March 12th, 2007

Last Wednesday, my good friend Martin Cullen was charged with steering the Roads Bill through the Seanad. His speech was heard without interruption. However, when I stood up to speak on the Bill, the Minister seemed a touch irritable.

What followed were some unprecedented scenes as the Minister proceeded to interupt me no less than 40 times, forcing the acting chair to appeal for restraint to the aggitated Minister no less than 17 times! Here are some of his more colourful interjections:

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Mr. Ross: To state… that it is time for us all to be positive about what is happening on our motorways represents naivety in the extreme…
Mr. Cullen: Talking about it does not deliver much.
Acting Chairman: Allow Senator Ross to speak without interruption.
Mr. Ross: The Minister is very good at interrupting.
Mr. Cullen: I am very good at listening to the rubbish the Senator goes on about.
Acting Chairman: Allow Senator Ross to speak without interruption.
Mr. Ross: I had to listen to the Minister speaking on “Morning Ireland” telling a whole pack of—–
Mr. Cullen: All the Senator ever comes up with are smart-aleck bloody gimmicks that achieve nothing.
Mr. Ross: I am sure part of that language is unknown to this House.
Mr. Cullen: It is not unknown to the Senator in his Sunday newspaper column.
Acting Chairman: Allow Senator Ross to speak without interruption.
Mr. Ross: I am glad the Minister has kept his cool temperament as always.
Mr. P. Burke: The Senator must have hit a nerve.

I then asked the Minister about a demand management report which is being done on the M50. Aine Lawlor had questioned him about it on “Morning Ireland” the previous week. More interruptions followed:

Mr. Ross: In characteristic ebullient style he did not answer the question. What is happening on the M50 is a piece of sleight of hand and it very cunning. It is purely and simply designed to pacify an enraged electorate…
Mr. Cullen: What does the Senator want to do about it? The Senator is great for making speeches. He should do something about it. He is lecturing all the rest of us on a daily basis. If he wishes to quote what I said on “Morning Ireland” he should at least quote me in context.
Mr. Ross: I will sit down while the Minister interrupts.
Mr. Cullen: Not at all, please do not behave like a child. The Senator should get up and be a man.
Acting Chairman: I ask the Minister to desist. This is the Senator’s time.
Mr. Ross: I thank the Chair.
Mr. P. Burke: Is the Minister getting on the Senator’s nerves?
Mr. Ross: One could never rile the Minister, he is a picture of calm and sobriety all the time. It is not a problem…

I then suggested that the government’s promise to buy out National Toll Roads in August 2008 was but a gimmick designed to pacify the public before the next election. The Minister was not pleased:

Mr. Cullen: If the Senator wants to write out a cheque for €110 million he should do so.
Mr. Ross: The Minister is writing out a cheque for almost €1,000 million for this already.
Mr. Cullen: I am not.
Mr. Ross: The Minister is.
Mr. Cullen: The Senator knows well I am not.
Acting Chairman: Minister, you will have a chance to reply.
Mr. Cullen: I look forward to that.
Acting Chairman: That is terrific. Senator Ross to continue without interruption.
Mr. Ross: I thank the Chair.

I continued but so did the interruptions! It was clear that the Minister found some of the facts that I was putting on the record were somewhat unpalatable. I returned to the demand management report in order to try to get some answers:

Mr. Ross: Having listened to him on “Morning Ireland” that day I heard a question being put to him about a demand management report which has been produced. I wonder why a demand management report is being put up for the M50. I ask the Minister to restrain himself.
Mr. Cullen: It was part of the planning permission granted by the local authority. It was a condition of planning, not a condition by me or the NRA. The local authority demanded it.
Mr. Ross: I did not say it was a condition laid down by the Minister.
Acting Chairman: Minister, you will have a chance to reply.—-
Mr. Cullen: If the Senator asked I would be happy to give him the answer.
Mr. Ross: The Minister is not at some Fianna Fáil local parish meeting—–
Mr. Cullen: The Senator should not be like that.
Mr. Ross: —–but is in one of the Houses of the Oireachtas and he ought to behave as though he had the dignity of a Cabinet Minister and that he is in the House.

I then pointed out that the demand management report will be suggesting alternative tolling arrangements, among them multiple tolling points:

Mr. Ross: We will have barrier-free tolling all over the M50 and people should be told this. They should not be told that a ridiculous single point polling policy is going to continue just to carry them over the May period.
Mr. Cullen: Policy á la Senator Ross.
Mr. Ross: I cannot understand why the Minister did not take the opportunity he had this year or last year simply to open that particular West Link toll plaza.
Mr. Cullen: It would have achieved nothing.
Mr. Ross: It would have brought about a great deal more happiness for a large number of people caught in those queues…
Acting Chairman: The Senator is in injury time.
Mr. Ross: I know. I am well and truly injured. There is an unanswerable case for opening them now and paying an additional amount, which I presume would be only approximately €75 million. If the Minister is going to spend appropriately €1 billion on this, which is the kind of inflation-linked calculation he would come up with, he might as well spend an additional €75 million to open those gates now. I do not think he realises the absolute misery he has caused and continues to cause commuters…

These exchanges are only a few examples of the Minister’s interjections. The full text of the debate can be read here. It was a truly extraordinary display. No one in the Seanad can recall such erratic behaviour from a Government minister. Martin managed to cause chaos throughout my entire 15-minute slot. A disruptive cabinet member is a rare sight. However unfortunately it leaves us none the wiser as to what the Minister plans to do after the election!