Leo is not a hawk. The dude is a dove. And this, in the teeth of intense provocation from a bellicose man at the coalface in a black cap with an axe to grind and a thriving Mace supermarket in south Kerry.
“Taoiseach, I was shocked to hear Government environmental advisers are urging the banning of turf and all coal sales, including even smokeless coal,” cried Michael Healy-Rae, an ominous edge to his voice.
“Now, the only thing I can guarantee, Taoiseach, is if you or any politicians or any Minister ever support the banning of the burning of coal in this country, you will be faced with every type of fire and brimstone, and hell will be brought down upon you.”
Hell, no less. The Taoiseach did a double take. A Healy-Rae threatening eternal damnation is not to be trifled with.
This is not for anybody to snigger or sneer at. I have no denying in the world: myself or my brothers would not be here if it wasn’t for turf
“And there is one thing that I’ll say to you, and this is not for anybody to snigger or sneer at,” he quavered. “I have no denying in the world: myself or my brothers would not be here if it wasn’t for turf.” A statement you don’t hear every day in the Dáil, and one that demanded further explanation.
We were all agog. Michael elaborated. “Our grandmother went to the bog barefoot when people had nothing, and she cut turf; our father sold turf in our village, in Kilgarvan, with a horse and rail to make a couple of pounds to keep the house going. That’s where we came from, Taoiseach. We came from nowhere else.”
Unlike Leo, who appeared mesmerised, the Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, intervened with an observation that was almost as explosive as Healy-Rae’s threat of unleashing a diabolical storm upon fossil-fuel fanatics and briquette deniers.
“We came from across the mountains and had the exact same upbringing, but it still makes sense to take this new direction,” he declared. But, but . . . Eamon is the quintessential Sandymount man. Isn’t he? Even Healy-Rae looked confused.
The Green leader didn’t explain. So afterwards, for the distraught denizens of Dublin 4, we sought out Eamon and demanded an immediate explanation.
“My mother is from Macroom, over the Cork and Kerry mountains,” he explained, waxing lyrical about happy childhood days.
Whatever about hellfire, the Taoiseach reassured the incandescent Healy-Rae that there are no plans for an outright ban on burning coal and turf, although “it certainly would be our objective, over time, to remove the burning of peat from power generation, and perhaps the burning of coal as well in the medium to longer term.”
But back to Leo, who is not a hawk. We learned this during spirited exchanges on the unusual subject of pesto. People were very passionate it, not least the Independent TD Mick Wallace, who travels regularly to Italy, once owned a vineyard there and has had a string of Italian restaurants here.
Of course he would want to talk about the pesto. Until it transpired he was discussing something called the Pesco, which stands for permanent structured co-operation agreement. Who knew? All of us should have, apparently. It was part of the Lisbon Treaty, which we adopted back in 2009.
Now the Government is about to sign us up to it, and a lot of TDs aren’t happy.
The Taoiseach is not inclined to entertain them. They had long enough to debate its merits, so it’s a bit late now.
Listen, we’re a small island. We’ve no intention of attacking anyone. There isn’t anyone going to attack us. You don’t bother anyone else and you don’t go to war with other people
Mick Wallace wanted to know what Pesco is actually about. He noted a recent promotional video that opens with the line “In a troubled world, citizens want the EU to offer them more protection” and then shows “images of fighter jets, drones, Apache helicopters, armed troops running off military-transport helicopters, aircraft carriers and warships, all to the tune of the kind of aspirational and emotive modern classical music you’d get on an ad for a new Mercedes”.
Apart from that it doesn’t say what exactly it will mean, “especially in terms of actual warfare”.
We won’t be fighting wars, insisted Leo. Ireland is proposing to participate on “an opt-in, opt-out basis”. A sort of hokey-cokey membership, as enjoyed by Sweden, Austria and Finland, “countries with long-standing traditions of neutrality and of not being members of Nato”.
Leo is keen on our membership. “My view is that a Europe that is worth building is a Europe that is worth defending.”
As for impecunious Ireland, “We are not going to be buying aircraft carriers, we are not going to be buying fighter jets and we are not going to be shopping around military trade fairs for any of these things, as that is not in our interest.”
But Mick wondered why we need to join in the first place.
“Listen, we’re a small island. We’ve no intention of attacking anyone. There isn’t anyone going to attack us.” The best way to have peace is simple. “You don’t bother anyone else and you don’t go to war with other people.”
Wallace wanted a proper Dáil debate – not to mention a public debate – about Ireland signing up. His view was echoed by a large number of Opposition speakers. “If you are so confident and so hawkish that this is good for us,” why not have that debate, Wallace challenged.
The Dáil is set to vote on Pesco on Thursday. “I don’t accept that I’m being hawkish,” Leo retorted. No more than he thinks sending peacekeepers all around the world, or ships to the Mediterranean to rescue refugees and pull children out of the water, is hawkish.
“We want to be in Pesco,” he stressed. The deed is about to be done. The rest of the Opposition, bar Fianna Fáil, say there is no requirement to act so quickly. Why not have a proper debate and a vote in the new year?
“It stinks to high heaven,” Richard Boyd Barrett raged. “Basically, this is a con. I believe that there is a quid pro quo with EU support for Ireland’s position on Brexit. This is the deal.”
“Ah, come off it,” the Tánaiste sighed.
“That’s what I think,” Boyd Barrett said. “The deadline for the Government is the EU council meeting.”
“It is not,” Simon Coveney insisted.
“Why the rush, so?” Mick Barry asked.
It’s been eight years, Leo argued. “The time for a decision is now. Let’s make it.”
He can be a decisive dove, when he wants to.