The Taoiseach was asked about bullying and the irony of his response was something special
Do you believe there is a safe working environment in Leinster House?
This was the question put to Leo Varadkar today. Without pause for reflection the Taoiseach spun the question all the way back to a comfortable topic... himself.
After a week in the USA, the Taoiseach seems to have brought home Donald Trump's ability to turn political questions into an opportunity for personal opinion.
His response as aired on TV3 news was this:
"From my experience yes- but that's not to say there isn't a macho culture of behaviour on occasion in the Oireachtas, there certainly is.
I've spoken myself in the past about how very often when you're trying to conduct normal business in the Dáil you're interrupted and shouted down constantly.
But that's largely by the men and women of Sinn Féin and the left, rather than men specifically".
While barely acknowledging that he was being asked to comment on the safe equilibrium of a workplace of hundreds of people, the Taoiseach spoke only of his own experience within the Dáil and nicked the opportunity for leadership on the issue to take a swipe at Sinn Feín and disrespectful 'left'.
Days after urging people to be 'brave' , to come forward and to report incidents of workplace bullying, Varadkar has effectively shut his door to anyone who may need to or want to come forward with allegations of bullying or harassment in Leinster house.
Political chambers are inherently places of debate, being an ideal profession for those who enjoy interrupting each other and making their points heard, but there is a wide spectrum between impolite Dáil debates and occasions of sexism, sexual harassment and verbal harassment.
The Taoiseach's response went no way towards recognising a public history of incidents within Leinster House. Incidents which at the very least show the possible existence of something more than a macho culture of 'shouting down' the 'normal business' of the Taoiseach
Here is just a quick round up from the years:
The time TD Tom Barry, pulled his colleague Áine Collins onto his lap during a late night debate in the Dáil.
The time Mick Wallace, referred to Mary Mitchell O’Connor as “Miss Piggy”.
The time Former Minister for Sport Liam Aylward was forced to apologise for tackling a female Dáil usher on a leather couch.
The time Senator David Norris told Regina Doherty TD she was “talking through her fanny”.
These incidents could be seen as isolated or as exceptions, but it is possible they are the few that have been publicised.
Laying the blame for the existence of macho culture at the feet of his political opponents was a serve that could look like a trivialisation if revelations in any manner similar to those of the Westminster dossier were to come to light.
In response to the Taoiseach's comments, deputy leader of Sinn Féin, and regular sparring partner of the Taoiseach, Mary Lou McDonald published this statement;
'Political pot shots on an issue as serious as gender based abuse in the workplace cheapen the office of An Taoiseach.
These are very serious issues and it is disgraceful that the Taoiseach would view such matters through the prism of political advantage.
Women inside and outside the Dáil deserve more from the head of government"
While Varadkar is busy painting his Taoiseach's portrait in muted tones of reason and caustic sarcasm, the moment for leadership on the issue of sexual harassment and bullying is passing him by.