Accusations of a Fianna Fáil-led ‘muzzling’ of questions on the Seanad floor regarding Waterford Crystal have earned the ire of Fine Gael Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
However, the accused ‘muzzler’, Senator Lisa McDonald of Wexford, has rejected these claims, describing her Seanad colleagues’ assertions as “absolute nonsense”.
Coffey and Cummins claimed that the Fianna Fáil Senator had attempted to stifle opposition questioning on Waterford Crystal during a debate on Wednesday, describing her approach as “negligent”.
In a joint statement, both Senators went further, accusing Senator McDonald, a Taoiseach’s nominee to the upper house in August 2007, of performing “a considerable disservice to Waterford constituents, as well as her own”.
In a stern rebuke to the Waterford duo’s claims, Senator McDonald labelled their reaction as “pathetic politics of the worst kind”.
The disagreement was catalysed by Amendment 22 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill (passed in the Seanad on Wednesday) which refers to a scheme for collapsed pension funds, such as Waterford Crystal’s.
With Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin was in the house to field questions on the bill, Senators Cummins and Coffey among others sought assurances for pension-less Waterford Crystal workers.
Senator McDonald said that Minister Hanafin “went to great lengths to explain the way the scheme would work”, something the opposition didn’t agree with.
She added: “The Minister pointed out that each worker’s entitlement could be different but that they would all in a better position now with this scheme being introduced as they would hopefully get a bit more than they would have gotten if she had not introduced the legislation.”
Repeated questioning of the Minister by both Cummins and Coffey on the Waterford Crystal issue led to a heated disagreement with Senator McDonald, who challenged their line of questioning.
“I am fully supportive of politicians from all sides raising matters of huge concern to their constituents on any issue and indeed was supportive of the initial question as put to the Minister,” she said.
“However, when the same question is put approximately five times over a period of an hour by the same Senators to which they received the same response from the Minister, I am totally within my rights in a democracy to question what part of the answer did they not understand or what was their motive in continuing to ask the same question.”
Describing Senator McDonald’s intervention as a “vain effort to shield the Minister from having to respond”, the Waterford Senators said it was their entitlement to “ask questions on behalf of the citizens”.
They added: “If Senator McDonald is supposed to represent Waterford Crystal workers from Wexford, which she claims to do, perhaps her time would be better spend addressing issues of concern instead of sheltering the Government from pertinent and relevant questions.”
But Senator McDonald, who chairs Wexford District Council, was having none of it.
“It is bad enough that these unfortunate workers have lost their jobs and that their pensions have collapsed, but the last thing that they need is politicians playing the lowest form of parish pump party politics with their terrible situation,” she stated.
“If it is a fact that they did not understand the answer, it could have been arranged for it to be explained in a meeting to them, as pensions are a highly complex area and hard to understand. However, their only motive appeared to be to gain political advantage and cheap publicity for themselves by using the plight of these workers.”