Unparliamentarily Debate


With criticism continuing after the choice words of a UK MEP in the European Parliament last week, Peter Molloy hopes his skin proves thick enough as he delves into the frighteningly funny world of political outbursts

Good old Nigel Farage. Just when it seemed that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) couldn’t do much more to polish its reputation as something of a vociferously outspoken, fringe element on the European political scene, along comes the MEP for South East England (and a former leader of the party) to well and truly complete the vaguely loony picture.

It’s February 24, and former Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy is delivering his maiden address to the European Parliament as President of the European Council. In a flash, however, the spotlight is stolen away from the mild-mannered Belgian by the man from Kent, who proceeds to verbally put down what he sees as the threatening new face of EU totalitarianism with sheer venom.

In less than five minutes, the oratorical knife had not only been jabbed into van Rompuy’s chest, but had been firmly twisted. Highlights of Farage’s speech included his description of the European President as having the appearance of “a low grade bank clerk”, and the “charisma of a damp rag”. Even Belgium – hitherto one of the most innocuous spots in the world – didn’t escape Farage’s wrath, with the Briton dismissing it as a “non-country”.

Phew! How lovely of him. But for all the column inches that Farage’s words have provoked, there’s little about last week’s parliamentary explosion that’s substantially new. In fact, Farage, whether unwittingly or otherwise, was merely tapping in to a rich political tradition of blistering put-downs and loaded rebuttals. Below, we take you through some of the best from recent years. The wonders of technology mean that most are available to view online. Enjoy, and don’t forget to strap your helmet tight!

Ian Paisley meets the Pope (1988)

On mature reflection, perhaps this one was always going to end in tears.

Pope John Paul II’s speech to the European Parliament was loudly interrupted by the good Doc 22 years ago; with Paisley holding up a placard denouncing the Pontiff as an ‘ANTICHRIST’. The belligerent Bible-thumper had evidently done youthful time in the Boy Scouts, for – like any good Scout – he prepared multiple posters to circumvent the (high) likelihood of one being immediately seized and torn up.

In a word: Mouth-frothing. http://short.ie/rant1

Danial Hannan kicks Gordon Brown to the kerb – and then boots him in the head for good measure (2009)

Just what is it about the EU? For an institution explicitly designed to promote Continental coexistence, it’s seen no shortage of debating jousts.

Last year, Conservative MEP Danial Hannan mercilessly put the UK’s beleaguered Prime Minister to the sword during the latter’s visit to the European Parliament. They really don’t teach this kind of elegant wordplay anymore – and look, Ma, no notes!

Maiden’s Debating? Nonsense – just play the youngsters this excerpt on repeat. They’ll be silky L&H sharks in no time.

In a word: Smooth. http://short.ie/rant2

“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” (1988)

October, 1988: the US Vice-Presidential debate is being contested live on air by Democratic candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Republican Senator Dan Quayle, when the latter rather unwisely compares his own political experience with that of John F. Kennedy. Immediately, Bentsen sweeps in to rhetorically cut his opponent down to size.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Pithy, but straight to the jugular.

In a word: Wincing. http://short.ie/rant3

Khrushchev bangs his shoe (1960)

In October 1960, the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly was treated to a memorable display of Slavic anger by Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev.

As Cold War rhetoric in the debating chamber gets heated, Khrushchev’s temper eventually gets the better of him, leading to one of the most memorable – if not bizarre – moments of the long ideological conflict.

Search Wikipedia for “shoe-banging incident” for one of the most entertainingly long-winded excuses for the incident ever developed – offered, naturally, by Khrushchev’s own daughter. Let’s just say it wouldn’t convince a jury.

In a word: Fiery. http://short.ie/rant4

“F*ck you, Deputy Stagg!”

People don’t normally associate the Green Party with raucous behaviour; the more usual image attached to the serene environmenalists is that of John Gormley naïvely cycling into work in Leinster House on his favourite green Dublin Bike, saving the ozone layer while his ministerial Merc crawls behind him, being obliged to follow him regardless.

Not the case, however, in December of last year, when the Dáil was debating a motion on cutting old age pensions as one of the moves in Brian Lenihan’s savage budget. Green TD Paul Gogarty, trying to reason to the House that it was not the Government’s intent to fleece the elderly, was continually cajoled by Labour colleague Emmet Stagg as the debate became more fraught.

The evening Gogarty’s infamous four-letter tirade was uttered, it had already been adopted as a ringtone and clocked up 10,000 views on YouTube – though the best part of it is how Gogarty’s youthful Dublin twang makes him sound like an aggrieved 13-year-old after the authorities have nicked his skateboard.

In a word: Profane. http://short.ie/rant5

Speaker Out (2008)

The Ukraine hasn’t had the greatest of centuries so far – major riots broke out in 2004 after a Presidential Election in which there were widespread allegations of vote rigging. The resulting Orange Revolution – which saw Viktor Yushchenko overcome a deliberate poisoning attempt – saw the country move away from its Soviet past and strive to form new links with the EU and United States.

Yushchenko’s tenure, naturally, was difficult – and in 2008, a key ally of his, the Speaker of the Parliament, faced a politically motivated vote of no confidence which was narrowly passed.

Let’s just say that many members didn’t take the news too well..

In a word: Biff! http://short.ie/rant6

Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting… (2009)

Completing our cavalcade of parliamentary piss-taking is this moment of briliance from South Korea last year.

Opposition members of the South Korean parliament, the gukhoe, tabled a controversial bill proposing to limit the power of the media. The ruling party opposed. Violently.

Proof – if proof was ever needed – that the world is best ruled with fists.

In a word: Abstention. http://short.ie/rant7