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‘I would have thought you learned that this weekend’ – sharp exchanges in Dáil as Taoiseach Simon Harris snipes at Mary Lou McDonald over election results

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Harris was told canal clearances and cuts to welfare for Ukrainians and asylum-seekers were ‘a weapon of mass distraction’

He said people want politicians to come up with solutions to social problems, adding to Ms McDonald: “I would have thought you learned that this weekend.”

Mr Harris told the Sinn Féin leader not to come into the Dáil chamber with her “one setting of performative outrage” and “let’s actually engage on the substance of the issues” as she tackled him on supports for special schools.

Earlier, he complained about the Sinn Féin leader “Mary Lou-splaining to me” about respite provision in respect of special needs children.

Mr Harris said he knew all about it because his own family had benefitted from July provision by schools – and he had promised to prioritise this area as Taoiseach.

He also criticised Holly Cairns, leader of the Social Democrats, who said “people don’t buy it” on promises to improve care. He said people had an opportunity at the weekend to speak for themselves.

“Lots of people voted for my party and for coalition parties as well,” he said. More than 53pc of the electorate had backed the candidates of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, he said.

But Paul Murphy of Solidarity-People Before Profit said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had actually lost votes at the local elections, telling Mr Harris: “Pride goes before a fall.”

He said the canal clearances and cuts to welfare for Ukrainians and asylum-seekers and were “a weapon of mass distraction”. It set a trap which, unfortunately, Sinn Féin fell into, he said.

Mr Harris said there would be a general election in due course and he was looking forward to it. He said he wasn’t sure if Sinn Féin was part of Mr Murphy’s plan for a new left alternative government.

“They will work it out after their review,” he said. Mr Harris said he was a politician of the centre, and a functioning immigration system would be established that would be fair.

“This party isn’t a nasty party, and this is not a nasty Government,” he said, telling Mr Murphy: “Better luck next time.”

Mr Murphy said the Government had spent €100,000 clearing tents when there were empty beds that could be provided. “It is extremely cynical politics.”

Ms McDonald raised special needs children and a survey by Family Carers Ireland that revealed that 72pc of families had never received respite. She cited case histories, and one case in which a boy had not received “July provision” since 2019. The programme provides socialisation and stimulation they need, she said.

Ms Cairns agreed, saying: “The people out there aren’t interested in the Punch and Judy show that often takes place in this house. They’re not interested in petty political one-upmanship or politics that values soundbites over substance.”

The report from Family Carers Ireland was shocking, she said, with carers struggling to make ends meet while their loved ones don’t receive any formal support.

“Nearly 50pc had to pay privately for products or services that should be publicly available to them,” she said.

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