The Dublin government postponed Ireland’s National Famine Commemoration Day due to the visit of ‘Queen of England’ Elizabeth Windsor -- and is still refusing to name a date for the event.
Last week, the commemoration committee of the Irish Famine Victims held a demonstration outside the Dáil criticising the government for failing to announce a date.
Since 2008, the government has held a national commemoration in May in rotating provinces, with the 2009 and 2010 events taking place on the second Sunday of the month.
Michael Blanch, chairman of the Famine group, said the date was set down during initial talks with the National Famine Commemoration Committee.
“But this year we had a visitor,” said Mr Blanch. “So the commemoration would have been on the Sunday and the queen’s visit on the Tuesday. It would have been a nice curtain raiser.
“But who knows what the government is thinking? This event happened in 1845 and we’re still suffering. It’s like a taboo subject in Ireland, like suicide and the abuse of children. It’s put under the carpet.”
It also emerged in recent days that the 26-County Minister for Justice Alan Shatter misled the public on the cost of the four-day Windsor visit, including the 12-hour stopover by US President Barack Obama.
Costed at 21 million euro just a few weeks ago, it was revealed that the visit has now robbed the state’s coffers of at least 36 million euro. Shatter has provided no details of how the money was spent.
Both trips were intended to boost international confidence in the Irish economy. However, their failure to do so was underlined on Wednesday when an international market analyst labelled the government bonds issued by the 26-County state as ‘junk’ -- or unsuitable for investment.
The verdict by Moody’s -- that the state will default on its sovereign debts in two years -- was shrugged off by Taoiseach in the Dail, who said it was ‘Europe’s problem’.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams accused the government of misleading the Dail on the debt issue. “The crisis grows deeper and it is the people, not the government, who are paying the price,” he said.
But despite the crisis, the Dublin parliament is increasingly sidelined by near-farcical debates which have made it the butt of international ridicule.
Following a controversy surrounding Kerry South Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae, members of the Dail have now been banned from making premium-rate phone calls.
The complete block on access to premium-rate calls was put in place following the disclosure that calls costing more than 2,600 euro were made from Leinster House to a voting line for the reality TV game show, ‘Celebrities Go Wild’, featuring Mr Healy-Rae.
Mr Healy-Rae was not a TD at the time, but his father, Jackie Healy-Rae, was. Mr Healy-Rae has repaid the money, but denied any knowledge of the calls, which helped him emerge as winner of the show.
Healy-Rae’s trademark cloth cap was also a subject of debate, as was the colourful attire and dress sense of other TDs.
Last week, the same Dáil committee, the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, decided to change the rules to ban the wearing of denims or casual attire in the chamber.
It recommended male deputies wear a tailored jacket, collared shirt and trousers, while women have been banned from wearing jeans.
Two flamboyant independents, Luke Flanagan and Mick Wallace, believe they were targeted by the committee, but the often jacketless Gerry Adams and Richard Boyd-Barrett may also be caught up in the fashion clampdown.
Adding to the controversy, Mr Wallace was heard to describe a government TD as “Miss Piggy” on Wednesday. This was a reference to Ms Mitchell-O’Connor, whose colourful outfits and blonde hair are often remarked on around the Dublin parliament, as are Mr Wallace’s.
Fellow Dun Laoghaire TD Boyd-Barrett, of People Before Profit, said the new rules were “further evidence that we have a government of clowns.”
“The country is drowning in debt, we have half a million people unemployed, we have people facing the loss of their homes and cuts to the most vulnerable, and these clowns are wondering what people wear in the Dail. It’s pathetic.”