In praise of… the Dáil bar (and parliamentary bars everywhere)

So last week the Dublin press (or some of them) were baying for blood over the Dail Bar bill on the night of the abortion legislation had deputies and Senators at their legislative work till 5 in the morning (are you still reading Stormont?).

What set them off was the lap-gate ‘scandal’, which involved a very drunk Fine Gael TD Tom Barry hauling party colleague Aine Collins onto his lap at 2.40am. However the rise in takings at the bar – on a night when almost every representative was in the building – actually appear rather modest, when you count it up on a per head basis:

179 pints of Guinness and lager were bought at the Dail members’ bar on July 11, compared to 29 pints on June 26 and 46 pints on an July 18, also Wednesday nights.

That’s a great deal less than a pint per head if most of the combined house (226 Deputies and Senators) were there that night. Some, like Deputy Adams, have called for restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the Oireachtas.

Now, there is no case for a TD turn up as drunk as Deputy Barry did that night. But by the media’s own account, there is also no evidence of widespread lassitude towards the duty to present soberly to parliament, as has been claimed.

Certainly there is no case for subsidising the parliamentary bars in Dublin or anywhere else. But the member’s bar in particular provides a space away from the eyes of the chattering classes, the media, and the self interested lobby.

It’s where opponents can meet, rub shoulders and, if not to do deals, get the opportunity to size up what weight to attribute to the handshake of a political opponent.

Outbursts like Barry’s should be treated in its own terms. And if the Dail was not almost completely a creature of the executive, it ought to deal with such transgressions fairly, but toughly.

As noted in my piece on compromise in politics, some politicians have “no time for opinions other than their own”. The Dáil bar is a place where the highly conversational business of politics can flourish outside the controlled and formal channels of the party whips.

And that may be something with which some party leaders are more comfortable than others…

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  • Ní Dhuibhir

    It’s a bit of a cop-out to blame the demon drink for Tom Barry’s sexist idiocy. A drunk sexist idiot is still a sexist idiot the rest of the time. For those who don’t show up to work pissed, a bit of informal social lubrication is a good thing.

  • megatron

    Mick to some extent your arguments could equally apply to say that my american multinatinal employer…but they arent buying and I make do with a canteen where I can make my own (free!!!!!!!!) tea and coffee while contemplating recent slugger articles.

    That said I generally agree with the priviso that it should be shut (for alcohols sales) the same time as other bars regardless of dail sitting/ not sitting.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, that’s to deny the role of the social anti chamber, and accept the argument that the bar is not an extension of the workplace.

    That that argument further requires the scaling up of allegation demonstrates its flawed rationale. Let the Dail self regulate, and let the sanctions be proportionate and tough.

  • sherdy

    If those figures are typical of the alcoholic consumption in the Dail bar, it must surely be heavily subsidised.
    In the present economic climate it should then be closed and turned over to some more productive use, saving the hard-pressed taxpayer.

  • megatron

    Apologies my punctuation was terrible above.

    To summarise I have no problem with the Dail bar but it should close the same time as other pubs.

  • There are exceptions to general rules which are justifiable. I seem to recollect that pubs in fishing villages (Donaghadee, for example) in N.I were allowed to tailor their opening hours according to the tides and thus fishermen returning to port at all hours.

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite Joe. Though I’m arguing that the media are extrapolating wildly off one case, when figures actually suggest a low intake rate.

    Its a pure anti politics reflex. The bar area provides a social alternative for members outside the party accommodation, and those areas open to the press/lobby.

    Of course if you take an “all your base are belong to us” view of the TDs relationship to his/her party, that’s fine.

  • LuvSummer

    Sexist idiot. An his lip service apology equally embarrassing.
    Leaves much room for improvement.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed, LV.

    That’s where the Dail – were it properly independent and the Ceann Comhairle had some means to assert his authority – should leave no one in any doubt where the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour lies.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    No problem per se with the Dáil bar except that they serve the same tasteless slop that passes for beer in 95% of Irish pubs. How about providing an outlet for the increasing number of indigenous craft breweries operating throughout Ireland?